The 18 best small cruise ships sailing the world

Heidi Sarna

In a world where gigantic megaships draw all the attention, I've always found small ships to be the best.

I've sailed on more than 125 cruise ships of all sizes, but my favorites have never been the big "floating resorts."

I'm drawn to the intimacy and instant community that develops between a small number of passengers and crew cruising together. I enjoy the serenity of small-ship cruising, with no lines to wait in or crowds to contend with on board.

I also gravitate to the off-beat itineraries small ships offer because they focus on unusual and remote places that only small vessels can access.

Who needs the bustling Caribbean when you can explore Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean; lesser-known Greek Islands like Skopelos and Skiathos; French Polynesia; or the Galapagos Islands?

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People often ask me which are the best small ship cruises, and that question is difficult to answer.

The new high-tech expedition ships, outfitted with the latest hardware and design touches, are incredibly appealing. However, I also adore certain older small ships for their heritage and atmosphere.

Of course, the best small ship for you may depend on where you wish to sail and whether you're looking for a relaxing yacht-like experience or a rugged adventure.

If you're like me and find that bigger isn't always better, this list is for you. Here are 18 of the world's best ocean-going small cruise ships, both older and new. Each carries fewer than 400 passengers and all are ideal for your next intimately sized travel adventure.

Lindblad Expeditions: National Geographic Resolution and National Geographic Endurance

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 128 passengers. Best for: Gadget-loving adventurers.

Lindblad Expeditions has been a leader in small-ship expedition cruising since 1966 when company founder Lars-Eric Lindblad pioneered expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos.

Today, the line's fleet of small ships explores nearly the entire planet, always with an impressive lineup of experts and photographers along for the ride.

Lindblad's newest 128-passenger ships, National Geographic Resolution (2021) and National Geographic Endurance (2020), were built for hard-core exploration in the polar regions they call home.

They sport a striking X-bow design (an inverted ship bow design for fuel efficiency), a polar class rating of PC 5 Category A (a notch above most Antarctica cruise ships), and a dynamic positioning system that keeps the ships hovering quietly in place.

Passengers can utilize each ship's fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks and stash of snowshoes and cross-country skis that aid in exploration.

High-tech toys, such as a remotely operated vehicle and underwater video camera, hydrophone, remote-controlled aerial camera and video microscope, allow guests to view footage of undersea life wherever the ships may be.

The ships also feature a gym, yoga studio, spa, ocean-view saunas, library and two dining venues. On deck, two infinity hot tubs offer amazing views.

All cabins are outward-facing (and 12 are single cabins, a rarity) with an "expedition command center" that includes a tablet, multiple electrical and USB outlets, a TV, a barometer and a National Geographic Atlas.

Cruise fare covers wine and spirits, excursions and excursion gear.

Related: These are the best Antarctica cruise ships

SeaDream Yacht Club: SeaDream I and II

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 112 passengers. Best for: Yacht enthusiasts seeking the sun.

SeaDream Yacht Club 's 40-year-old ships may not be new, but they're still some of the prettiest classic luxury yachts afloat. Suites don't have balconies. However, they're spacious, recently refurbished, and feature wood details that evoke a classic nautical feel.

What the ships lack in modern touches, they make up for in experience and service. The food is excellent and served both on the romantic outdoor decks and inside the cozy restaurant.

The line's iconic weekly beach barbecue on a remote stretch of sand, complete with Champagne and caviar in the surf, is a cruise highlight on all itineraries. An open bar contributes to the social atmosphere on board, and watersports from a stern marina when conditions are right are a great perk for active travelers.

The SeaDream twins winter in the Caribbean and summer in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Related: Why it's easier to meet new people on a smaller cruise ship

Sea Cloud Cruises: Sea Cloud I

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 64 passengers. Best for: History buffs and sailing ship lovers.

The one-of-a-kind, four-masted Sea Cloud was originally commissioned as a private luxury yacht by multi-millionaire Wall Street titan E. F. Hutton in 1931. Hutton's extravagant heiress and businesswoman wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post, oversaw the ship's interior design, outfitting it in marble, mahogany and gold-plated fixtures.

After passing through various owners, Sea Cloud I has spent the last several decades offering casually elegant windjammer cruises to old-ship lovers from Europe and North America.

Passengers choose from 10 original cabins, including Post's own suite with its Louis XIV–style bed and nightstands, marble fireplace and bathroom, chandeliers and intricate moldings.

Sea Cloud winters in the Caribbean and summers in Mediterranean, visiting the Greek Islands, Italy and the Canary Islands.

Related: Big vs small cruise ships: Which will I like better?

UnCruise Adventures: Wilderness Legacy

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 90 passengers. Best for: Sporty cruisers who love quirky ships.

Constructed in 1983, UnCruise Adventures ' Wilderness Legacy is truly a one-of-a-kind quirky ship. Its throw-back style exterior harkens back to a 20th-century steamboat.

The ship attracts a loyal fan base thanks to its roomy size and cabins that open onto covered promenade decks (rather than a central interior corridor). It even features a hot tub on deck and an elevator, a rarity on older small adventure ships like this.

The portable, custom-made "sea dragon" platform at the stern makes for easy access to kayaking, paddleboarding and swimming, activities popular with UnCruise's sporty fans. The adventurous can also enjoy hiking, bushwhacking and cycling in some ports.

Fares include everything from wine, beer and spirits to daily excursions.

The largest ship in the UnCruise fleet and built for coastal cruising, Wilderness Legacy spends its time in Alaska's Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park, as well as on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Related: The best Alaska cruises for every type of traveler

Star Clippers: Royal Clipper

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 227 passengers. Best for: Sailing enthusiasts with a penchant for the past.

Star Clippers' handsome five-masted tall ship Royal Clipper is considered the largest square rigger in service. Modeled after the great 1902 German clipper Preussen, the ship is a real throwback, with lots of wood and brass features and nautical-style elements.

Royal Clipper also has impressive modern niceties for a ship of its size, including three small pools and an aft marina for easy access to complimentary water sports. It also offers a small gym and spa.

In the winter, Royal Clipper island hops around the Caribbean, sailing round trip from Barbados to some of the lesser-known islands. During the summer, it cruises the Mediterranean along the French and Italian rivieras and explores the coast of Croatia and the Canary Islands.

Windstar Cruises: Wind Star and Wind Spirit

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 148 passengers. Best for: Romantics and foodies.

Windstar Cruises ' 148-passenger four-masted motorized yachts are beloved for their upscale yet casual sailing vibe and great food in partnership with the James Beard Foundation.

Standing on deck when the sails are unfurled is one of the more romantic moments you'll likely experience on any ship.

The expansive wooden sun decks on Wind Star and Wind Spirit make you want to be on topside as much as possible to enjoy the yachting life. Each has multiple dining options, both indoor and on deck, including a weekly barbecue on deck under the stars.

Both have a stern marina for easy access to water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding.

The cozy cabins aren't huge, but they are well-appointed with wood details and nautical flair. Suites are a combination of two cabins.

Windstar offers both cruise-only and all-inclusive fares. You can build an a la carte vacation or pay upfront for an easy trip that includes an open bar, unlimited Wi-Fi and included crew gratuities.

Wind Spirit is stationed in the islands of French Polynesia, sailing year-round out of Tahiti through February 2024. Wind Star is its globe-trotting sister, focusing mostly on the Greek Islands in the summer and Costa Rica and Panama in the winter.

Related: The 2 classes of Windstar ships, explained

Ponant: L'Austral

small ship ocean cruise lines

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­How small? 264 passengers (200 in Antarctica). Best for: Chic Francophile foodies.

Ponant has been busy launching six new ships in its impressive Explorers series. However, L'Austral (with sister ships Le Boreal, Le Soleal and Le Lyrial) is my favorite ship in the fleet.

Why? L'Austral is the ideal size for a small ship — intimate but still large enough for amenities such as a gym, spa and show lounge.

Its gorgeous tiered stern decks feature a lovely outdoor pool area at the back of Deck 6 with a perfect stretch of deck for sunbathing and scenery watching and an open-air bar above for stunning views.

With Ponant's French pedigree, it's not surprising that food is a cut above, especially the desserts, cheeses and wine. I had the best chocolate mousse of my life on L'Austral. Dine outdoors on the pool deck or in the elegant indoor restaurant. Enhance your evening with complimentary wine (mostly French), Charles Heidsieck Champagne, beer and spirits.

L'Austral explores both polar regions and spends time in the Mediterranean, cruising along the coast of Croatia and around the smaller, less touristy Greek Islands like Amorgos, Milos and Delos.

Emerald Cruises: Emerald Azzurra

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­100 passengers. Best for: Travelers seeking intimate luxury.

Emerald Cruises' new Emerald Azzurra (and soon-to-debut sister Emerald Sakara) is one of the smallest luxury cruise ships afloat and a good choice for travelers who want something more intimate than what Silversea or Seabourn offer.

The ship's six gleaming white-tiered decks sport a futuristic pyramid-like profile that turns heads when it arrives in port.

Emerald Azzurra features a watersports platform at the stern for convenient access to kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and riding SEABOBs (electric underwater scooter-like jet skis). Inside, you can avail of a small gym and spa.

Choose from open-air and indoor dining for your meals. Wine and spirits are included, so take advantage of two impressive outdoor spots for a drink and stunning views — the Sky Bar at the top of the ship and the chic infinity pool at the stern of Deck 3, adjacent to a lounge and cafe.

Itineraries focus on the Mediterranean during the summer, with mostly one- to two-week cruises that call on ports along the coasts of Croatia, Albania, Italy, France, Turkey and the Greek Islands. It spends the winters in the Caribbean.

Explore these destinations in depth with included excursions.

Scenic Cruises: Scenic Eclipse

small ship ocean cruise lines

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­How small? 228 passengers (200 in polar regions). Best for: Design fans with wanderlust.

An impressively kitted-out expedition ship, Scenic Eclipse has an ice-strengthened hull with a C6 rating suited for polar cruising, including navigating the Northwest Passage. High-tech features include a GPS dynamic positioning system to maintain a location without dropping anchor.

The Australia-based line's debut into ocean cruising had Scenic Eclipse drawing attention with impressive additions like a pair of six-passenger helicopters and a five-passenger submarine (both offered at an additional cost), as well as kayaks, zodiacs and e-bikes. (Sister Scenic Eclipse II is set to debut soon.)

The ship's sleek angled silhouette makes for a handsome profile. The eye-catching interior is sophisticated, with a stark black, gray and beige color palette, lovely wood details, white Carrara marble surfaces and bold art.

Passengers can enjoy a relatively large spa and fitness area, plus multiple dining venues, including Asian, Japanese, French and Continental restaurants. Wine and spirits are included in the fare.

While small luxury ships typically have fancy owners' suites, the pair of top accommodations on Scenic Eclipse is on another level. Each measures over 2,000 square feet with a huge forward-facing teak-lined terrace, complete with a large whirlpool tub.

Scenic Eclipse cruises to nearly every corner of the world, including French Polynesia and the Pacific Islands, Australia, the Indonesian archipelago and Antarctica. The cruise fare includes excursions.

Related: These cruises cost $30,000 and have no set itinerary. Here's what to expect

Silversea Cruises: Silver Endeavour

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­200 passengers. Best for: Intrepid travelers who demand the utmost luxury.

Silversea Cruises is a pro at luxury small-ship cruising — the line has been at it for more than 30 years. With Silver Endeavour, it achieves the perfect mix of ultra-luxury surroundings with tough-as-nails expedition hardware for its focus on polar cruising.

On board, many rooms are veranda suites measuring 356 square feet (including a private balcony), all with marble baths. The largest Grand and Owner's suites are massive multi-room affairs with huge private verandas. The passenger-to-crew ratio is one-to-one; service is excellent.

For dining, there are four main restaurants, including an Italian and a French-inspired venue. The Grill is an eatery enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass for the best views in the house.

There's an impressive spa, salon and gym with panoramic ocean views and several lounges for drinks (always included) and lectures.

Near the well-stocked library is the Expedition Study, where the 20-member expedition team is accessible for questions. Outdoor deck space includes the forward-facing bow area with an outdoor hot tub.

With its PC6 ice-class rating, Silver Endeavour spends November through April in Antarctica and the rest of the year in the Arctic, including Greenland, Arctic Canada, Iceland and Norway. Excursions are always complimentary.

Related: The best luxury cruise lines for elegance and exclusivity

Seabourn: Seabourn Venture

small ship ocean cruise lines

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­How small? 264 passengers. Best for: Travelers with high standards for luxury and special itineraries.

Seabourn 's new Seabourn Venture (and upcoming sister Seabourn Pursuit) are on par with Silver Endeavour and Scenic Eclipse when it comes to pairing top-of-the-line luxury and pampering with incredible itineraries.

Elegant interiors include a main restaurant, several lounges and bars where drinks are all included, a plush lecture hall, a cafe for coffee and snacks, and spacious balcony suites that start from 355 square feet (including the balcony).

The windowed fitness center and spa area includes an ocean-view sauna and the infinity pool at the back of Deck 5 boasts killer views.

Not just a pretty ship, Seabourn Venture is tough, built to PC6 Polar Class standards for a focus on expedition cruising in the polar regions. The ship carries two submarines, as well as a fleet of double sea kayaks and 24 Zodiacs that can accommodate all guests at once.

Seabourn's large expedition team leads daily complimentary excursions, such as Zodiac sightseeing tours, shore walks, hikes, snorkeling and kayak outings. Also, accomplished guest lecturers give onboard talks.

Like Silver Endeavour, Seabourn Venture will spend the year in the polar regions, with long repositioning cruises in between, such as a 51-day Antarctica, Atlantic and Northwest Africa voyage from Buenos Aires to Malaga, Spain.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Seabourn cruise ship

Atlas Ocean Voyages: World Navigator

small ship ocean cruise lines

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­How small? 196 passengers. Best for: Travelers craving luxury and lots of open deck space.

World Navigator is a deluxe expedition ship sporting a 1B Ice Class-certified hull and the latest technologies, such as a GPS-based dynamic position system to minimize movement and noise.

Multiple dining options include the main restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the ship's wake and a steakhouse on the Lido Deck. For cocktails, head to either of two piano bars, the Dome Observation Lounge or the Atlas Lounge, just outside the lecture theatre.

The Atlas Ocean Voyages ship has terrific outdoor spots for remarkable views (not hogged by a helipad or stern and aft suite balconies), including a close-to-the-water spot on Deck 5 forward and a "secret" arc of deck on Deck 6 aft.

You can also take in the scenery from the ship's shallow pool and two adjacent hot tubs.

Don't miss the spa, even if you don't book a massage. It features an appealing seating area facing the sea and an ocean-view sauna. Walkers and joggers keep fit on the top-of-ship track.

World Navigator's itineraries focus on the polar regions, but the ship visits Europe and the Canary Islands while repositioning.

Landings and Zodiac safaris are included on Antarctica cruises, but excursions are not included on other itineraries. All non-polar cruises offered from April through October are called Epicurean Expeditions (with one complimentary wine- or food-focused experience per cruise).

American Queen Voyages: Ocean Victory

small ship ocean cruise lines

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­How small? 186 passengers. Best for: In-depth Alaska cruises for nature lovers.

Newcomer Ocean Victory is large for a small cruise ship, which allows it to offer more on its Alaska expeditions.

Its sizable expedition team, which can number 18 on select voyages, comprises seasoned authorities in a wide range of fields, such as geology, whale communications and photography. Team members lead complimentary excursions on sea kayaks and 18 Zodiacs so passengers can experience glaciers, icebergs and wildlife up close.

In place of an observation bow with direct views of the water, as many similar ships offer, Victory has a pair of viewing platforms on each side of the ship, thanks to its distinctive X-bow design. These platforms are cantilevered directly over the water for great views of bergy bits and potential marine life.

The American Queen Voyages ship offers three dining venues, plus multiple bars and lounges (drinks are included in your fare).

Like any good expedition ship, Ocean Victory has one lounge dedicated to lectures with large flat screens to view presentations. You'll find an ocean-view fitness center, a small spa and an outdoor pool with two hot tubs.

Ocean Victory's 11- and 12-night Alaska cruises depart between May and September. The ship sails between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Sitka, Alaska. It visits destinations such as Frederick Sound, Endicott Arm, Tracy Arm, the Waterfall Coast (Gut Bay), Misty Fjords National Monument and Fiordland (Kynoch Inlet) in Canada's Inside Passage.

Your fare includes a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay.

In winter, Ocean Victory sails in Antarctica for Albatros Expeditions.

Related: Looking for nature and adventure on an Alaska cruise? Choose a smaller ship

Swan Hellenic: SH Vega

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 152 passengers. Best for: Cruisers looking for unique itineraries including Africa and South America.

Swan Hellenic's compact, well-laid-out SH Vega is built for expedition cruising with a PC5 ice-strengthened hull.

The interior has a contemporary, Scandinavian-inspired low-key design ethos. SH Vega is nearly identical to its younger sister, Minerva. The third, slightly larger sibling Diana is set to debut in May.

When returning from a frigid Antarctica excursion, you will appreciate the fireplaces (yes, that's right) built into the walls of all cabins. They're electric but quite realistic, with flames and crackling sounds.

When the weather's good, skip the main restaurant and eat at the buffet, which is set up at the back of Deck 7, adjacent to the attractive (and heated) infinity swimming pool. Vega also has a small gym and a spa with an ocean-view sauna.

The expansive Observation Lounge takes up most of Deck 7 and is the spot for expedition lectures. Thirteen Zodiacs and eight kayaks take guests on water adventures and ashore.

Don't miss the little observation point called the Swan's Nest all the way forward on Deck 6. You play out your Jack and Rose fantasies there.

SH Vega cruises the Arctic region (visiting Greenland, Iceland and northern Canada), South America, the coast of Africa (including South Africa, Namibia and Angola) and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Cruise fare includes a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay and one excursion in each port.

Viking Cruises: Viking Octantis

small ship ocean cruise lines

How small? 378 passengers. Best for: Expedition cruisers with an academic bent.

Among the larger ships on our list, Viking 's new 378-passenger Viking Octantis (along with sister Viking Polaris) was designed to explore the polar regions with some pretty cool features, including a large two-level garage called the Hangar.

Inside are not only Zodiacs and kayaks but a pair of six-passenger submarines and military-grade speed used to shuttle cruisers on excursions.

The ship is equipped for scientific inquiry with a remote-controlled underwater robot, baited underwater camera and a FerryBox system for collecting water samples, which you can view under a microscope in the ship's science lab. Weather balloons are released on every cruise to capture info on temperature, humidity and wind speed.

For decidedly less academic pursuits, Viking Octantis has a fitness center and a spa that includes a lovely indoor pool with sea views, plus a sauna, snow grotto (with snowflakes descending gently from the ceiling through chilled air) and outdoor spa tub.

Four dining options include Manfredi's Italian and several attractive lounges, such as the windowed Aula auditorium for lectures.

Viking Octantis spends part of the year in Antarctica and the rest of the year cruising the Great Lakes and Canada, with a handful of repositioning cruises in between.

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12 Top Cruises on Small Ships

From wildlife viewing in the remote polar regions to magical sunsets in the Indian Ocean, these ships offer unforgettable voyages.

Kayakers outside the Greg Mortimer ship from Aurora Expeditions.

Al Bakker | Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions

Even if you're sailing in chilly Antarctica, cruising on a small ship offers comfort and coziness.

If you are feeling a sense of wanderlust and ready to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations in far-flung corners of the world, consider booking a small ship cruise. These luxury mega-yachts, expedition-style vessels and sailing ships can visit tucked-away harbors, exotic locales and pristine beaches that larger ships can't reach. And if you opt for a cruise on a rigged sailing vessel, there's nothing more romantic than watching the sun set into the ocean while the wind fills the sails of a tall ship at sea.

Smaller ships offer an intimate onboard vibe where the experience is highly personalized with a higher crew to passenger ratio – and where you'll get to know many of your fellow passengers. Smaller ships are often more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly than traditional cruise ships, using either wind power or the latest technologies. With the addition of new or existing cruise lines entering this market along with other lines investing in upgrading older ships, there are many more vessels in these smaller ship classes to choose from when considering your cruise options.

If you're seeking an adventure of a lifetime – whether to meet the penguins in Antarctica, people- and yacht watch in glamorous ports of call in the Mediterranean, or go island hopping in paradise in Hawaii – then plan your voyage to set sail on one of these small ships.

(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)

Ready to plan a cruise? Find the best value sailings on  GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Star Clippers: Royal Clipper

Inspired by the legendary 1902 Preussen, the first five-masted ship, Royal Clipper was launched in 2000 as a true sailing vessel at 439 feet in length with 54,000 square feet of sails across 42 sails. With five fully rigged masts, the ship is recognized in Guinness World Records as the largest square rigger in service today.

Modeled after the historic clipper ships, Royal Clipper travels under full sail – and by wind power – for up to 80% of its voyages. When the vessel does navigate under power, the energy-efficient engines only use high-quality, low-sulfur gas oil, earning Star Clippers the International Air Pollution Prevention Certificate for all three of its clipper ships.

The ship can accommodate as many as 227 passengers in 114 staterooms, along with 106 crew. While on board, guests will enjoy 19,000 square feet of open teak deck, three swimming pools and hidden balconies on either side of the bow, where you can view wildlife like dolphins swimming alongside the ship. You can also relax in the bowsprit net overlooking the ocean and keeping an eye out for whales. For the more adventurous sailor, climbing the mast to 75 feet above the water affords unforgettable ocean views from your perch in one of the passenger crow's nests. Other features of Royal Clipper are its three-story atrium, trilevel dining room, and unique spa and health club with underwater portholes called the Captain Nemo Lounge.

The ship's seven-night Windward Islands itinerary sails round trip from Barbados with stops in Antigua , Martinique , St. Kitts, Îles Des Saintes and St. Lucia. You'll even have an opportunity to sail alongside one of the line's sister ships and another tall ship – Star Flyer – to the island of Dominica . Royal Clipper's longer itineraries include several Grand Voyages: The 19-night cruise from Cannes in France to Lisbon in Portugal, for example, calls on other ports in France, Italy, Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco.

Read: Cruise Essentials for Your Next Trip

Silversea Cruises: Silver Wind

Guestroom interior on the Silver Wind.

Courtesy of Silversea Cruises

Launched in 1995, Silver Wind was Silversea's second of four vessels that the line built for the ultra-luxury market. This ship underwent a significant upgrade in 2018, followed by another refurbishment in 2021 that included an enhanced ice-class hull. This new addition allows Silver Wind to be one of the most adaptable ships in the fleet, sailing from the polar regions like Antarctica to sunny island climates in the Caribbean and cruising picturesque shorelines along the Mediterranean Sea.

Silver Wind measures about 515 feet in length and has 149 all ocean-view suites, more than 80% of which boast a private veranda. The ship carries 274 guests and 239 crew and features elegant public rooms, including lounges for gazing out at the ocean or watching onboard entertainment. There's also an upscale bar, shipboard boutiques and a spa.

Dining is a highlight, with four venues spanning international cuisine such as Italian, regional specialties and seasonally inspired menus. For an evening under the stars, The Grill features fine steaks and seafood or vegetables that guests can cook at the table on 400 degrees Celsius lava stones. After dinner, spend time chatting with fellow passengers at Connoisseur's Corner, where you can sip cognac and enjoy a cigar.

Silver Wind offers an epic 20-night expedition cruise from Tromsø, Norway, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, visiting various destinations in Iceland as well as remote regions and glaciers in Greenland. For a warmer voyage, the 10-night Puntarenas to Guayaquil itinerary takes you from Costa Rica to Ecuador in South America, with stops at the remote Darien Jungle in Panama, the Utría National Natural Park in Colombia and several ports in Ecuador, including the city of Guayaquil.

Want to cruise a small ship on Silversea Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Sea Cloud Cruises: Sea Cloud

Exterior of Sea Cloud ship on the water.

Courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises

Built in 1931 as a private yacht for Wall Street broker Edward Francis Hutton and his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American socialite and philanthropist, this legendary windjammer maintains the elegance of a time gone by.

Originally named Hussar, the 360-foot Sea Cloud has a fascinating history – while the ship started as a private yacht, it later became a floating palace of diplomacy and then a warship. Today, Sea Cloud accommodates up to 64 passengers in 32 outside cabins and carries about 60 crew. The ship also boasts 29 sails, with the height of the main mast towering 184 feet above the water.

If you've never been on this type of vessel, cruising under full sail on a tall ship is unlike any other experience. Sea Cloud does not rely on motors (though they are installed just in case), allowing the wind and sea to determine the ship's course whenever possible, guided by the skills and seamanship of the crew for navigation. This setup provides an opportunity to teach the art of sailing to the passengers. The captain of Sea Cloud and guests prefer to cruise under full sail, which is the lure of sailing on a windjammer. Life on board the ship is intimate and relaxed – just as you would find on a private yacht.

Amenities on Sea Cloud include a lido bar and deck and a restaurant serving cuisine inspired by the destination, which features local products, fresh fish and regional wines.

One of Sea Cloud's top itineraries, Between Lifestyles and Nature's Paradises, sails for seven nights from Monte Carlo, Monaco , to the Spanish island of Palma de Mallorca , with calls on less visited ports along the Mediterranean coast in southern France like La Ciotat and Collioure. You can also join the jet-setters in St. Barts with a front-row seat from your sailing ship for the Bucket Regatta. This 10-night adventure includes two days in the French West Indies island of St. Barts and other picturesque ports of call in the Caribbean.

Read: The Best Cruise Insurance Plans

Atlas Ocean Voyages: World Navigator

Living room interior on the World Navigator.

Courtesy of Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages' first luxury expedition ship, World Navigator, launched in August 2021. With a length of 423 feet and capacity for 196 passengers and 127 crew, the ship sails to fascinating destinations around the world. By optimizing fuel efficiency with the incorporation of the latest hybrid power management and propulsion system, World Navigator uses as little as one-fifth of the fuel of standard cruise ship systems. The quiet alternate hydro-jet propulsion system allows for up-close viewing of marine animals and other wildlife.

The 98 beautifully appointed staterooms and suites feature upscale amenities like Egyptian linens and a menu to personalize your selection of a pillow. Some accommodations also have Juliet-style or walk-out balconies, and certain suites come with butler service. For dining options, you'll find Portuguese-inspired Porto, which is the main dining room, or the New York-style 7-Aft Grill for steaks and seafood. Passengers can also opt to have lunch poolside or enjoy light bites at the Dome Observation Lounge, which offers panoramic views of the sea.

Other ship amenities include three bars and lounges, the SeaSpa by L'Occitane, an auditorium, a mud room, a pool and two hot tubs, a boutique and a fitness center. To wind down after a day of exploring destinations in far corners of the globe, convene with other passengers to relive the experience during Àpres Sea.

For the ultimate bucket list adventure, book the nine-night round-trip expedition from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the southernmost continent. Highlights of this venture to Antarctica include navigating the Drake Passage; embarking on water safaris to Deception Island or Yankee Harbour; encountering wildlife like penguins, seals and whales; and even camping on land overnight. For a less adventurous itinerary, history enthusiasts will appreciate the 12-night Western Europe voyage sailing from Hamburg in Germany to London , with an overnight in Amsterdam and ports of call in cities like Antwerp and Bruges , Belgium; Plymouth, U.K.; and Honfleur, France.

Read: The Top Cruise Lines for Solo Travelers

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Flora

This 100-passenger luxury mega-yacht is the first ship of its kind built for the Galápagos Islands . Launched in 2019, Celebrity Flora is 333 feet long and features 50 spacious all-suite accommodations, each designed with a veranda or an infinite veranda that extends the terrace to be part of the living space. Each suite is fully automated, allowing guests to control everything with the touch of a button. Amenities include luxurious linens and bathrobes, and you'll enjoy chocolates and toiletries locally sourced from Ecuador. The ship is also eco-friendly and built with the latest environmental technologies.

There are two dining venues on board Celebrity Flora. Seaside Restaurant offers an upscale casual experience with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout. For alfresco dining in the evening, Ocean Grill serves local, sustainable seafood during "Dinner Under the Stars." Other inviting indoor spaces include the Discovery Lounge, where Celebrity's naturalists host briefings and presentations, and the Observatory, a library and lounge with a view.

Outside, The Vista offers guests an open-air escape with private cabanas, cocoon-style loungers and a Jacuzzi. Cruisers can head to the outdoor Sunset Lounge for a dip in the plunge pool or experience Galápagos Glamping on the top deck with an evening of dining and sleeping under one of the most spectacular night skies in the world.

Celebrity Flora sails seven-night inner- and outer-loop Galápagos itineraries and has extended trips with land packages that add on Quito or Machu Picchu . The 16-night Galápagos Outer Loop & Machu Picchu itinerary includes island hopping in the Galápagos, where you'll have up-close encounters with giant tortoises, marine iguanas, Galápagos penguins, red- and blue-footed boobies, and sea lions. Afterward, head to Lima, Peru , where you'll fly to Cusco and venture onward to visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Looking to plan a small ship cruise on Celebrity Cruises? See the top cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Windstar Cruises: Wind Star

Dining at the Star Grill on the Wind Star.

Michel Verdure | Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

When it first launched in Le Havre, France, in November 1985, Wind Star was the world's largest sailing vessel and the flagship for the line. While this schooner may not be the largest tall ship on the seas today, Wind Star is an elegant four-masted sailing yacht and the cruise line's namesake. Since its launch, this ship has been through a few renovations, with the most recent one in 2018. The 360-foot vessel features 73 deluxe ocean-view staterooms that accommodate 148 passengers, and it can carry 101 crew. Four masts stand at 204 feet tall, and six triangular Dacron sails, which are self-furling and computerized, make up a surface area of 21,500 square feet.

As with other Windstar vessels, you'll find the same casual elegance on board this sailing ship. Guests will get to sail away to the music Windstar traditionally plays while raising the flag during every port departure – Vangelis' song "1492: Conquest of Paradise," which is the musical score to the movie of the same name. The culinary program on Windstar's fleet is in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, so dining is a real treat. The three restaurant venues on Wind Star include Amphora, whose contemporary, international menu was created by James Beard-affiliated chefs. The romantic Candles offers an alfresco dining experience with grilled steaks and skewers, while the Veranda is the ship's casual breakfast and lunch buffet with outdoor seating.

Other onboard amenities include a lounge, the Yacht Club Café, a pool bar, a salon and spa, a boutique, a library, a fitness center, a water sports platform and an open bridge where you can enjoy a chat over coffee with the captain.

Treasures of the Greek Isles is a seven-night voyage that sails round trip from Athens to several Greek islands, including Mykonos and Santorini . This itinerary also includes a stop in Kusadasi, Turkey, where you'll be able to visit the fascinating ancient city of Ephesus. For a South America adventure to transit the Panama Canal and explore destinations in the region like rainforests, reserve the seven-night Costa Rica & Panama Canal voyage.

Read: Bucket List Cruises for Seniors and Retirees

Viking Cruises: Viking Octantis

The Viking Octantis near a large iceberg in Antarctica.

Courtesy of Viking

Built in 2022, Viking's new Polar Class 6 ship, Viking Octantis, is 665 feet in length and accommodates 378 guests in 189 staterooms and 256 crew. The purpose-built expedition ship boasts more indoor and outdoor viewing areas than many other expedition vessels, providing guests with up-close views of some of the most incredible scenery in the world. The energy-efficient design of this ship and the line's other expedition vessel, Viking Polaris, exceeds the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) requirements by 36%. The cruise line is also recognized for receiving one of the first highest-level certifications for quiet ship propulsion, minimizing underwater noise pollution.

Cruisers familiar with Viking Ocean Cruises' ships will recognize familiar spaces and dining venues such as The Living Room, The Explorers' Lounge, The Nordic Spa, Manfredi's, The Restaurant and The World Cafe. New spaces on Viking Octantis include The Aula, a panoramic auditorium designed for lectures and daily briefings, and the adjacent Finse Terrace. This outdoor lounge area sits just above sea level and boasts recessed, heated couches and lava rock "fire pits." Passengers will also find the industry-first in-ship marina, The Hangar, where guests can easily embark and disembark the ship, and three pools offering varying temperatures with an inside-outside passage. In addition, all staterooms feature Nordic balconies that convert from a sunroom to an alfresco viewing area.

For a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, book the 12-night Antarctic itinerary sailing from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina. This expedition includes the Drake "rite of" Passage, scenic sailing around Cape Horn and wildlife viewing in the icy waters of the "White Continent." For U.S. travelers interested in staying closer to home, the seven-night Great Lakes Explorer departs Milwaukee for Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada. Cruisers will enjoy a stop in Mackinac Island in Michigan, scenic sailing along the St. Mary's River and transit from the U.S. into Canada through the Soo Locks.

Want to plan a Viking Expedition Cruise? See top cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Emerald Cruises: Emerald Azzurra

Emerald Cruises' luxurious 360-foot superyacht, Emerald Azzurra, launched in May 2022. The boutique ship carries just 100 passengers and is designed for cruising the waters of the Mediterranean, Adriatic Coast and the Red Sea. Its sister ship, Emerald Sakara, will debut in 2023. On board Emerald Azzurra, you can expect to be pampered by 68 crew members while soaking in the sun poolside or relaxing indoors during a day at sea.

The 50 spacious modern staterooms and suites, most with balconies, offer spectacular views of off-the-beaten-path destinations and smaller ports and harbors. The ship also features several dining, bar and lounge venues; quiet spaces for relaxing or reading a book; a wellness area; a hot tub with a view and an infinity-style pool; a boutique; and a fitness center. The marina platform on the ship's stern offers paddleboarding, snorkeling and other water sports activities.

The seven-night Gems of the Arabian Peninsula sails from Doha, Qatar, to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This cruise calls on Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi , United Arab Emirates, as well as two ports in the country of Oman. For unforgettable ocean and island views and a vacation in paradise, book the seven-night Tropical Charms of the Seychelles, sailing round trip from Victoria, Mahé , which is the capital of the Seychelles .

Lindblad Expeditions: National Geographic Endurance

Interior of igloo guestroom.

Alexandra Daley-Clark | Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Launched in July 2021 as one of two new polar vessels and a sister ship to National Geographic Resolution (November 2021), this extraordinary vessel can explore deeper and further into the Earth's polar regions. National Geographic Endurance is the first new polar build in the company's 50-year history, and its name honors the ship of renowned Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. The elegant Scandinavian-inspired design also features the patented X-Bow, offering eco-friendly benefits and a smoother, quieter ride.

National Geographic Endurance is 407 feet in length and has 69 spacious staterooms with large windows or balconies to accommodate up to 126 passengers. The ship also carries 112 crew. Unique onboard amenities include the first polar art exhibit at sea, curated by environmental artist Zaria Forman, and the first igloos at sea. Guests can arrange to spend an evening under the stars in these glass domes, which are available to reserve on a first-come, first-served basis.

Passengers can also enjoy one complimentary evening at the Chef's Table, sustainable cuisine during their voyage, a lounge and bar area, outdoor infinity-style hot tubs, a yoga studio, saunas with a view of the sea, and state-of-the-art facilities for presentations and films. Every expedition also has a National Geographic photographer and a certified photo instructor and video chronicler.

For an unforgettable rendezvous with nature, book a 10-night cruise called Land of the Ice Bears. This adventure sails to the best place in the world to view polar bears: the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean. In addition to many opportunities to see those amazing animals, you'll also encounter walruses, reindeer, arctic foxes and fur seals. Another incredible journey for the extreme adventurer is the 35-day Epic Antarctica sailing. This expedition will venture to remote West Antarctica and explore the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia, traveling to destinations where possibly few – or even no – humans have set foot before.

UnCruise Adventures: Safari Explorer

Interior of guestroom on the Safari Explorer ship.

Courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

Built in 1998, Safari Explorer is 145 feet in length and one of UnCruise Adventures' four Safari-class ships in its expedition-style fleet. Nicknamed "the Bulldog," this ship transports passengers to wild and remote areas that larger ships can't navigate. The 36-passenger yacht was recently renovated with interior refinishes, touch-ups and upgrades. There are just 18 cabins and 18 crew.

The lifestyle is casual on board, and guests have access to three decks with a library, dining room, rooftop sun lounge and exercise equipment. You'll find common areas on the main deck such as the salon, bar and wine bar. When it's time to hit the water or go ashore, the vessel is equipped with expedition gear, including kayaks, inflatable skiffs, paddleboards, snorkel equipment and more.

In the summer months, Safari Explorer sets off in search of humpback whales in Alaska and spends winters island hopping in Hawaii. The seven-night Hawaiian Seascapes sailing cruises to four islands, including stops in Molokai, Lanai , Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii . There are two itineraries in Alaska. The seven-night Alaska Glacier Cruise itinerary sails one way from Juneau to Sitka through the northern passages. For an extended expedition that includes wilderness areas with even more opportunities for wildlife and whale viewing, book the 12-night Cruise to Alaska voyage from Seattle to Juneau.

Read: The Best Times to Cruise to Alaska

Ponant: Le Commandant Charcot

Ponant's first high polar expedition vessel, Le Commandant Charcot, launched in September 2021. The 492-foot-long ship is eco-friendly and powered by liquefied natural gas with the latest innovations and technologies. Le Commandant Charcot is also the first luxury hybrid electric polar exploration vessel.

All of the 123 staterooms and suites have a private balcony or terrace. The atmosphere for the 245 passengers on board is much like that of a private yacht, given an extraordinary ratio of passengers to crew with 215 crew members. Two culinary options, gastronomic restaurant Nuna and casual dining concept Sila, are part of a collaboration with Ducasse Conseil and Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse; the menus are designed by the renowned French chef. Guests can enjoy complimentary French wine, Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Ladurée macarons throughout their voyage.

You'll also find beautiful public spaces, a boutique, a theater, expedition rooms and a promenade deck where you can access the bow. Not to be missed is the wellness area, which is a partnership with Biologique Recherche and features amenities like a 14 degrees Fahrenheit snow room with fresh powder snow, a sauna and an indoor pool. On the pool deck, passengers can enjoy a sunroom, a heated outdoor blue lagoon, a giant fire pit, an outdoor bar and the Blue Lagoon bar.

Le Commandant Charcot sails to the farthest points in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including Antarctica and the North Pole. The 24-night Northwest Passage cruise takes guests from Reykjavik in Iceland to Nome, Alaska, and features polar activities like kayaking between the ice floes, snowshoeing, ice fishing or even exploring with a naturalist guide by hovercraft. The 15-night Geographic North Pole expedition sailing from Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, in Norway pushes the limit of sailing to the northernmost point in the world. Le Commandant Charcot is the only passenger ship able to reach the geographic North Pole.

Read: The Top Luxury Alaska Cruises

Aurora Expeditions: Greg Mortimer

Outdoor hot tub on the Greg Mortimer ship at dusk.

Matt Horspool | Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions

Australian-owned Greg Mortimer is a 341-foot-long purpose-built expedition ship, and the first passenger ship designed with the Ulstein X-Bow. This state-of-the-art design offers environmental benefits such as producing fewer emissions and requiring less fuel. The unique bow design also provides a smoother cruise experience when crossing rough seas like the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica. In addition, the ship's Rolls Royce dynamic stabilizers contribute to the vessel's stability and lower its fuel consumption.

The vessel was built in 2019, features 79 cabins with ocean views – 85% of which have balconies – and can accommodate an average of 132 passengers and 74 crew. Onboard amenities include bars and lounges, the main dining room, lecture facilities, a library, a mudroom to store wet expedition gear, a spa, a sauna and a gym. The ship also has hydraulic viewing platforms offering unobstructed views of the local marine and wildlife, as well as 15 Zodiac boats that launch from four platforms.

With Greg Mortimer and its new sister ship, Sylvia Earle, Aurora Expeditions travels to wild and remote destinations around the world. Popular itineraries include its nine- to 23-day Antarctica voyages, navigating icy waters on the 17-day Northwest Passage expedition from Canada or on the 11-day Iceland Circumnavigation cruise, which sails round trip from Reykjavik.

Want to explore cruise options? See the top cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top River Cruise Lines
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10 best small cruise ships, according to readers

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Best Small Cruise Ship (2023) March 24, 2023

While large ships come with certain advantages (rock climbing at sea, anyone?), some cruisers prefer the intimacy, personalized service and destination-focused itineraries of a smaller vessel. These 10 cruise ships and yachts voted as the best by readers – each with a passenger capacity of under 1,000 – can get to smaller ports inaccessible to larger ships and offer a more social atmosphere where it’s easier to get to know your fellow guests.

Seabourn Ovation

No. 10: Seabourn Ovation - Seabourn Cruise Line

The 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation, sister ship to Seabourn Encore, attracts passengers with its inclusive cruise fares that even include unlimited caviar. Dining options abound, including alfresco dining at Earth & Ocean at The Patio. The ship also comes outfitted with high-speed internet.

Emerald Azzurra

No. 9: Emerald Azzurra - Emerald Cruises

The 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra, an ocean-sailing yacht from Emerald Cruises, is small enough to tuck into small ports, so passengers can be in town straight away when docked. Cruisers appreciate the beautiful infinity pool, sun decks and water toys, like kayaks and snorkeling equipment that lend a private yacht vibe. Expect Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, generously poured wine at lunch and dinner and a nicer price tag for a cruise on the Azzurra than on comparable ships.

Viking Jupiter

No. 8: Viking Jupiter - Viking Ocean Cruises

Viking Jupiter accommodates only 930 guests. Like her popular Viking sister ships, Jupiter features a spacious spa, several dining venues, an intimate jazz lounge, two cinemas, a pool with retractable roof and a sports deck.

Viking Orion

No. 7: Viking Orion - Viking Ocean Cruises

The 930-guest Viking Orion offers all-veranda staterooms with amenities like free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and heated bathroom floors. It’s also the first ship in the fleet to feature a high-tech planetarium in a 26-seat dome theater.

Viking Sky

No. 6: Viking Sky - Viking Ocean Cruises

The 930-passenger Viking Sky feels more like a resort than a cruise ship, thanks to its all-veranda staterooms, tasteful decorations and elegant public spaces for reading, relaxing or socializing. Little extras, like numerous USB ports, ocean-facing lounge chairs on the pool deck and floor-to-ceiling windows in most venues, make for a comfortable sailing experience.

Viking Star

No. 5: Viking Star - Viking Ocean Cruises

Viking Star was Viking’s first oceangoing vessel and remains one of the world’s best small ships. While you won’t find casinos or amenities for young children, you will find a Nordic spa with a “snow grotto” at sea, several dining options, and onboard extras like free Wi-Fi and complimentary wine and beer at mealtime.

Seabourn Encore

No. 4: Seabourn Encore - Seabourn Cruise Line

The ultra-luxury Seabourn Encore features 300 suites for 600 passengers with all the amenities of Seabourn’s Odyssey-class ships. Additions to Encore include a VIP area on the top deck, a wellness program and two restaurants, The Grill by Thomas Keller and Sushi.

American Constitution

No. 3: American Constitution - American Cruise Lines

Carrying just 17 passengers, the American Constitution was designed to navigate the U.S. East Coast’s inland coastal waterways. The vessel offers large staterooms, spacious lounges, observation decks and private balconies in many cabins. Complimentary Wi-Fi, a fitness room, a grand dining room, a sun deck, and a putting green are some of the many amenities available.

Royal Clipper

No. 2: Royal Clipper - Star Clippers

Designed after the tall ship Preussen, the Royal Clipper is the world’s largest full-rigged sailing ship, complete with 42 sails. The vessel carries just 227 guests with luxurious accommodations and modern amenities like three swimming pools, relaxed dining and a marina platform for water sports. Passengers can even don a harness and climb the mast to a crow's nest.

SeaDream II

No. 1: SeaDream II

There's "cruising" and there's "yachting" – small ships that dock in harbors and ports inaccessible to larger ships. SeaDream offers 7- to 15-day voyages with a maximum of 56 couples and a 95-person crew, so service and attention to detail are highlights. Guests aboard SeaDream II (twin of SeaDream I) appreciate international menus that incorporate local flavors and ingredients of the region; an open bar and daily selection of wine pairings at lunch and dinner; a Thai-certified SeaDream Spa; onboard golf simulator; fitness center; and the ability to enjoy water sports right off the back of the yacht.

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Nominees are submitted by a panel of experts. 10Best editors narrow the field to select the final set of nominees for the Readers’ Choice Awards. Readers can vote once per category, per day. For any questions or comments, please read the FAQ or email USA TODAY 10Best .

The Experts

Danielle fear.

Danielle Fear

Danielle Fear is one of the UK’s most recognized...   Read More

Danielle Fear is one of the UK’s most recognized and trusted cruise bloggers and is better known to her audience as CruiseMiss. As well as maintaining an award-winning cruise blog, she also works as a freelance writer, content manager and social media professional covering all aspects of sea travel. Having embarked on more than 75 sailings, including 2 world cruises, it’s fair to say that Danielle knows a thing or two about cruising.  

Danielle Fear

Jason Leppert

Jason Leppert

Jason Leppert is a San Diego-based cruising expert...   Read More

Jason Leppert is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 140 sailings under his belt and a fresh, millennial perspective on the industry. He has been cruising since before he was two years old, thanks to his parents' shared passion for traveling and their desire to experience all journeys together as a family. Now, he regularly sails and writes "he said, she said" cruise columns with his wife Heidi. He is the founding editor of Popular Cruising , producer of the successful Popular Cruising YouTube channel  and Cruise Editor for TravelAge West.

Jason Leppert

Ming Tappin

Ming Tappin

Residing in New Brunswick, Canada, Ming has been...   Read More

Residing in New Brunswick, Canada, Ming has been in the cruise industry since 1994. Ming spent over 20 years in the retail travel sector, working with travel agencies in marketing initiatives, cruise training, and promoting cruise vacations to their clients. In 2015, Ming created  Your Cruise Coach  and transitioned into travel writing, preaching the merits of cruising via her partnerships with Canadian and American travel trade publications as well as consumer media outlets. An avid cruiser since 1991, Ming has sailed on over 70 cruises and has experienced over 25 ocean, river, and expedition cruise lines combined.

Ming Tappin

Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith, Readers' Choice Awards...   Read More

Catherine Smith, Readers' Choice Awards Production Manager and Social Media Director for USA TODAY 10Best, has a special interest in unique culinary experiences and  off-the-beaten-path adventures. Catherine is the founder of  Her Bags Were Packed  where she focuses on helping  women release emotional baggage through solo travel and self-discovery.

Catherine Smith

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10Best Editors

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USA TODAY 10Best provides users with original, unbiased and experiential travel coverage of top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for top destinations in the U.S. and around the world.

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Each of Windstar Cruises yachts accommodates between 148 to 342 guests. This intimacy provides you with the luxuries of time, space, and freedom to immerse yourself in both the journey and the destination - in ways you may never have imagined possible.

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Escape the Masses on These New Small-Ship Expedition, Luxury, and Sailing Cruises

With fewer crowds, excellent service, and the ability to get to remote destinations, small-ship cruising—on vessels that can only accommodate up to 500 passengers—might truly be the best way to explore by sea..

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A terrace suite on the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's "Evrima," with large bed and glass wall leading to balcony

Book a terrace suite on the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s newest vessel, Ilma , launching in 2024.

Photo by Jack Hardy/Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Authentic. It was Merriam Webster’s top searched word for 2023 and one that has dominated the travel vernacular in recent years. And while many would not necessarily associate the word with ocean cruising , the growth in popularity of small-ship cruises—particularly sailings with 500 guests or fewer—indicates that in the cruising world, passengers are seeking a more intimate, less crowded, and yes, arguably more authentic sailing experience.

Take expedition cruising , for example. As the number of adventure-focused ships and yachts has exploded in recent years, these cruises are no longer just about extreme voyages in polar regions. They are also about offering a deeper look into the culture, food, history, and environmental fragility of remote wonders of the world.

Although there isn’t a huge number of new small ships being introduced, there are a few notable vessels that have either recently launched or are launching this year with a focus on the idea that smaller is not just better, but more sustainable, too. These new small-ship cruises bring with them some exciting and more immersive new itineraries to destinations both warm and wintry that have us ready to pack our bags and sail away.

Sea Cloud Cruises' sailing ship, the "Sea Cloud Spirit" with three tall masts and white sails

On Sea Cloud Spirit , passengers benefit from both age-old seafaring techniques and modern comforts.

Courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises

Sea Cloud Cruises’ ” Sea Cloud Spirit”

  • Suggested itinerary: Reset your mind and body on an eight-night sailing through Spain’s Canary Islands and on to Morocco on a special cruise featuring experts in restorative health. Pricing starts at $4,895 per person.

What’s more authentic—and sustainable—than setting sail on a tall ship where the sails are hoisted up each day by hand? Although not technically new (it was launched in 2021), the 136-passenger Sea Cloud Spirit and its two sister ships, Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II , are upping their game in a push to introduce Sea Cloud Cruises’ unique product to North American travelers. The German company has traditionally catered to German and British passengers. As part of its effort to expand its reach and appeal, Sea Cloud is adding wellness programs with daily onboard yoga and guest fitness gurus, in addition to special food- and wine-focused sailings with well-known chefs making appearances. Sea Cloud Spirit , the largest of the three-ship fleet with 69 cabins, was meticulously designed to pay homage to the original Sea Cloud , which was the world’s largest private sailing yacht when Wall Street broker Edward Francis Hutton had it built in 1931 for his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The Sea Cloud Spirit combines the experience of decades of traditional seamanship with the modern-day luxuries of a private yacht. Cabins range from 172-square-foot single cabins to 300-square-foot balcony suites with soaking tubs. There’s a large fitness center and spa, which has a steam room, sauna, and thermal area for two; indoor and outdoor lounges; and a main dining area, plus a more casual bistro. The action, however, is out on deck, where passengers can stargaze at night or simply gaze in awe at the impressive sails blowing in the wind.

Room with two sofas and armchairs and yellow floor-to-ceiling drapes; four large windows overlook snowy crags

Luxury expedition cruising comes with priceless views when sailing with Atlas Ocean Voyages.

Courtesy of Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages’ ” World Voyager”

  • Suggested itinerary: Go searching for Arctic wildlife on a 12-night cruise from Reykjavík, which sails along the eastern coast of Greenland and to Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago, one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas and home to polar bears, reindeer, arctic foxes, and other Nordic wildlife. Pricing starts at $6,499 per person.

World Voyager , which sailed its maiden voyage in Antarctica this past November, is the third vessel to join the fleet of one of the newest players in small-ship expedition cruising, Atlas Ocean Voyages. The company’s 100-cabin expedition yachts are almost identical and provide a hybrid of sorts between traditional expedition and luxury cruising. Cabins are spacious, almost all with balconies, desks, and seating areas. The bathrooms have glass-mosaic tiled showers with rain showerheads, wall jets, and even benches.

Everything on the ship—including the sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows—is designed to provide maximum views. The ships also have spacious pool decks with two hot tubs, a fitness center overlooking the sea, a spa, and water toys like kayaks and paddleboards. There’s even extreme camping gear for those willing to brave an overnight under the stars in Antarctica. During North American winters, all three of Atlas’s expedition yachts sail in Antarctica. With the addition of World Voyager , the company is launching more Arctic Circle cruises during the North American summers while also adding a host of new epicurean and cultural expeditions in South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and northern Europe this year.

View from above and behind the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's "Evrima" with other yachts and sailing ships and green hills in distance

Joining its sister ship Evrima (pictured), the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s Ilma is launching in 2024.

Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s “ Ilma”

  • Suggested itinerary: Spend a little extra time in port on a 10-day sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon, which has three overnight stays, in Palma de Mallorca and Malaga in Spain, and in Lisbon, Portugal, one of Europe’s oldest cities. Pricing starts at $10,600 per person.

Another newcomer to luxury small-ship cruising is the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, which debuts its second ship, the Ilma , this year. With 224 suites, the ship is larger than the original Ritz-Carlton yacht, the 149-suite Evrima , which launched in October 2022. On the Ilma , all the suites will have private terraces, including a two-story suite with soaking tub; the coveted, 1,000-square-foot owner’s suite has a private outdoor whirlpool. Even the smallest suites are not all that small, at 300 square feet, and come with a personal concierge and 24-hour room service. The yacht boasts what Ritz-Carlton says is the highest ratio of space per guest at sea.

And you can expect to find the same meticulous service standards that you would find at Ritz-Carlton resorts throughout the world as the line aims to impress hotel guests seeking a luxury hotel experience at sea. Onboard are five dining venues, including S.E.A., a European tasting experience designed by chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany; Talaat Nam, featuring Southeast Asian cuisine and a sushi bar; and Mistral, a casual come-as-you-are alfresco grill with a Mediterranean-inspired menu. Light bites are served at the marina at the aft of the ship, where you can also hop on a borrowed paddleboard. Oh, and did we mention there are two outdoor pools, too?

The City center, cathedral, city hall and the old main bridge across the Main river at night time in Germany, Lower Franconia, Würzburg

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Small Ship Cruising

A collection of treasures... our small ship cruises feature cultural journeys and expeditionary cruises that explore the world's most intriguing ports of call, with exclusive travel experiences ashore that take you the heart and soul of the world's most amazing destinations.

  • Expeditions
  • Cultural Journeys

Tauck Small Ship Cruising

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Welcome to Small Ship Cruising

Small is big aboard our small ship cruises. Experience uncommon access that gets right to the heart and soul of a destination... sail to some of the world's most beautiful ports of call as you seek out hidden harbors and island getaways where big ships don't go... and delight in moments both at sea and ashore as you experience rich cultures and indescribable exotic lands.

Small ship cultural journeys are a gateway to a collection of treasures..., culturally inspired cruising fuels the imagination....

Cultural journeys aboard our small ship cruises evoke golden sand beaches, vineyards bucolic with lemon trees, olives and vines, lavender fields fragrant from afar, limestone caves and rocky mounts, sculpted in time... Past is present in architectural artistry, fortified towns and terra cotta tableaus that play out in palaces and promenades steeped in history... in places immortalized with nature's colorful brush, where masterfully crafted wines were made to sip and savor, traditions toasted and tales fondly shared... where you become part of the stories, past and present, that make your cruise memories last lifetimes.

Expeditionary Cruises: Exhilarating adventures in unseen worlds...

Expeditionary cruises to exotic locations, from the sea to the shore....

The first maritime expeditions date back millennia when explorers in dugout canoes and sailing boats plied the seas to untraveled destinations. While the expeditionary ships you'll sail aboard with Tauck are modern in every way, the remote ports where you will cast anchor are timeless still. Imagine setting foot on an equatorial beach teeming with wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Or navigating ice floes to stand on the ethereal seventh continent. Come aboard our expeditionary cruises and get ready to check off bucket list experiences other travelers only dream of.

Treasures of the Mediterranean Isles

Designed to inspire

Cruise the azure waters of the Mediterranean, where we launched our first small ship cruise in 1993

And 30 years later, a new voyage of cultural exploration as you chart a course through the Mediterranean Isles on a thoughtfully reimagined itinerary that sets the standard for a new era aboard a Ponant ship designed for intimate cruising. Explore Elba, steeped in Napoleonic tales; cast anchor off of Corsica, a jet-setter's paradise; step ashore in two different ports of call in Sicily, enticing with antiquities and stunning vistas; experience Sardinia, culturally rich with prehistoric sites; and make history in Malta where the Knights of Malta left a living legacy gilded in gold and silver.

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Featured River, Small Ship and Land Journeys

Small is big... onboard and ashore.

Smaller ships mean bigger experiences. Our small ships are big on individualized service, special touches and comfort, making you feel like a welcomed guest the moment you come aboard. Intimate spaces invite conversation or quiet contemplation as you like. Whether you're inside your cabin or out on your deck, ocean views beckon with adventures yet to come.

Because of the size of our ships, we're not restricted to commercial routes or large ports. We're free to follow the fish, not the fleets. We dock in places where you can get lost in the moment and not in a crowd. We delight in sharing spontaneous moments, up-close discoveries, personal connections and unforgettable treasures, making each moment memorable and uniquely yours. At Tauck, small is big... and the best way to make your cruise so much more than you ever expected.

Guest Favorites in Small Ship Cruising

Explore the world aboard our cultural journeys and expeditionary cruises; discover the windswept landscapes of the Shetland and Orkney archipelagos, Alaska's spectacular glacial treasures, the dramatic scenery of the volcanic island of Iceland, and timeless secrets along the Adriatic Coast. Share spontaneous moments, up-close discoveries, personal connections and unforgettable treasures – making each moment memorable and uniquely yours.

Venice & the dalmatian coast, legendary scottish isles, edinburgh & glasgow, iceland: land of fire and ice, alaska's inside passage, traveling with tauck, uncommon access.

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10 Best Small Cruise Lines for the Trip of a Lifetime

Updated : April 18, 2024

AAA Travel Editor, SMS

Table of contents.

  • Viking Cruises for a River Adventure
  • Oceania Cruises for a Romantic Voyage
  • Silversea Cruises for Ultra-Luxury and Adventure
  • Azamara for Romance 
  • Seabourn for Intimate Adventures
  • Celebrity Cruises for Galapagos Exploration
  • Cunard Line for a Classic British Cruising
  • Hurtigruten for an Eco-Conscious Adventure
  • Regent Seven Seas for Personal Service
  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruises for a European River Cruise

Small Cruise Line Considerations 

Plan your small cruise with aaa.

When most people think about cruises, they think of massive ships filled with people. But that’s not the only way to cruise.

Small cruise lines, generally considered any line with ships with fewer than 2,000 passengers, offer several benefits that can make your cruise experience more enjoyable:

  • Smaller ships can dock in ports other cruise lines can’t access.
  • Fewer passengers means fewer crowds and lines.
  • Lower passenger-to-crew ratios mean a more personalized cruise experience.
  • Connect with fellow passengers.
  • Often, smaller ships have a lower price per day than larger ships, which have more amenities, staff, and maintenance costs.
  • Enjoy a more intimate and private experience.

Read on to discover the best small cruise lines you should consider for your next cruise.

small ship ocean cruise lines

1. Viking Cruises for a River Adventure

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Types: Expedition, River

Best for: History and culture enthusiasts

AAA Member Benefit: 

  • $100 per person shipboard credit for all cruises 8-11 days
  • $200 per person shipboard credit for all cruises 12+ days

Viking Cruises is an award-winning river cruise company with ships specially designed for cruising rivers. Enjoy some of the best river cruises in Europe , Egypt and Asia while its award-winning English-speaking staff looks after your every need. 

Get off the ship and explore historic destinations with guided tours of ports and overnight stays on shore. While on the ship, take advantage of the peace and tranquility of spacious staterooms. Immerse yourself in the local culture with onboard entertainment, including resident historians and guest lecturers who will teach you everything you need to know about your destination.

Explore the Antarctic, Niagara and the Great Lakes, or Panama and Scenic South America on one of its expedition cruises. These adventure cruises allow you to get up close to witness the nature and wildlife of your destination.

2. Oceania Cruises for a Romantic Voyage

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Types: Ocean

Best for: Honeymooners

AAA Member Benefit: $100 per person onboard spending credit on select voyages

Explore less common destinations when you sail on one of Oceania Cruises ’ eight small cruise ships. The cruise line is known for its 180-day cruise around the globe with more than 100 ports, but it also offers seven-day cruises to places like the South Pacific & Tahiti, the Mediterranean and Alaska. 

While onboard, enjoy world-class dining and luxury accommodations. The on-ship cooking class will have you channeling your inner Food Network chef, and the spa will help you relax in between ports of call. 

Because you’ll be on one of the least crowded cruise ships , you’ll spend less time in line and more time exploring ports and relaxing on board. 

3. Silversea Cruises for Ultra-Luxury and Adventure

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Types: Expedition, Ocean

Best for: Adults looking for privacy and adventure

AAA Member benefit: 

  • Up to $300 per person onboard credit on selected sailings

If you’re looking for a high-end, smaller cruise, Silversea offers the elevated experience you’re looking for. The ultra-luxury arm of the Royal Caribbean Group, Silversea sails to more than 900 destinations worldwide, making it one of the best cruise lines for adults . 

The cruise line built some of its smaller ships specifically for their destinations: The Silver Origin for sailing around the Galapagos and the Silver Explorer for Polar explorations.

Silversea has one of the lowest crew-to-guest ratios of any cruise line, and its 13 ships have 51 to 364 cabins. Each stateroom has an ocean view and a dedicated butler. All-inclusive pricing covers everything onboard—drinks, meals, gratuity—so you won’t need to worry about finding your wallet.

Silversea’s Grand Voyages give you more time in specific regions, giving you the opportunity to learn the nuances of your destinations. Spend more than a month exploring multiple ports in Africa & Arabia, Australia, the Mediterranean and more. 

4. Azamara for Romance 

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Type: Ocean, River

Best for: Couples

AAA member benefit: 

  • $150 per stateroom onboard spending credit on select sailings in a Club Ocean View stateroom or above

River cruises are often more intimate since vessels need to be smaller to navigate narrower waterways, and Azamara has some of the best. Its four ships — Azamara Journey, Azamara Onward, Azamara Pursuit and Azamara Quest — are built to navigate both the open sea and rivers around the globe. 

Essentially floating boutique hotels, they make romance easy, which is why they are one of our best cruise lines for couples .

Choose from more than 150 destinations and enjoy late-night stays and overnight stays in select ports so you can get a better sense of the local culture without rushing to get back to the ship. Check out its country-intensive packages, such as its Italy Intensive, which stops in 8 ports around the entire boot over 10 days.  

Unlike many other small cruise lines, Azamara’s all-inclusive package includes alcoholic beverages and unlimited self-service laundry. 

5. Seabourn for Intimate Adventures

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Types: Ocean, expedition

Best for: Intimate adventures

  • $300 per suite (double occupancy) onboard spending credit on select departures. 
  • Singles receive $150 per suite.

Whether you want to sail the Northwest Passage or the blue seas of the Mediterranean, Seabourn ’s intimately-sized ships can take you there in style.

Enjoy complimentary caviar from the time you board to the end of your journey. Spacious suite-style rooms come with butlers and Wi-Fi, and its exclusive partnership with chef Thomas Keller means you’ll dine in style your entire journey. Relax with top-notch in-house entertainment, including its show An Evening with Tim Rice, the acclaimed lyricist behind several Disney and Broadway classics.

The cruise line has partnered with UNESCO to visit World Heritage sites. Take an expedition cruise to connect with wildlife and see areas of the country you can’t typically access on a ship. Expeditions travel to Antarctica, the South Pacific and the Arctic and include shore excursions, nature walks, snorkeling and more. 

6. Celebrity Cruises for Galapagos Exploration

small ship ocean cruise lines

Best for: Honeymooners who love being outdoors

AAA member benefit: Onboard credit per stateroom based on category booked (valid for all departures 3+ nights with the exception of Galapagos products):

  • Outside: $25
  • Balcony: $50
  • Concierge Class and above: $75

Celebrity is known primarily for the larger cruise ships that make it one of the best cruise lines for families , but it does have three small ships in its fleet that sail the Galapagos.

Each Celebrity Galapagos Series ship carries 16-100 passengers around the Galapagos Islands. The Flora is the largest and one of the line’s most eco-friendly ships. It’s also the first ship to be designed specifically for touring the Galapagos. The Xploration is the smallest of the fleet, a private 16-passenger catamaran. 

Enjoy talks from certified naturalists from Galapagos National Park, see native wildlife, including blue-footed boobies, sea lions and penguins, and interact with locals. These cruises aren’t for everyone — if you’re looking to relax on the beach while sipping a cocktail, you’re better off on a river or ocean cruise.

7. Cunard Line for a Classic British Cruising

small ship ocean cruise lines

Best for: Mature adults (50+)

AAA member benefits: 

  • Up to $300 per stateroom onboard spending credit 
  • Reduced cruise deposit of 50 percent off the standard deposit per stateroom

Enjoy the height of British cruising with the Cunard Line . The line’s four ships all carry around 2,00 passengers, making them a bit larger than other ships on this list, but the exceptional service means you won’t notice a few extra people. The focus is on sophisticated and cultured voyages, making it one of the best cruises for seniors . 

Take part in one of its famous transatlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2, the only ship making this classic passage today. Participate in afternoon tea, a Cunard tradition, dance the night away in formal wear for a Gala Evening or listen to one of its many speakers. You can also attend trivia games and dance lessons. 

8. Hurtigruten for an Eco-Conscious Adventure

small ship ocean cruise lines

Cruise Types: Expedition

Best for: Eco-conscious adventurers

  • Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Express 300/600 NOK
  • MS SAnta Cruz II - Galapago - $100.00 USD per person

Voyage to the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights or explore Norway’s fjords and coastal towns with Hurtigruten . Explore wild and remote destinations with the line’s expedition cruises to destinations such as Alaska, Antarctica, the Galapagos, Europe and more. 

Hurtigruten ships are known for being eco-friendly, with hybrid engines, minimal single-use plastics and eco-education onboard. They also strive to boost the local communities they visit, so expect locally sourced food and connections with community leaders to give you an immersive cultural experience. 

Don’t miss Hurtigruten’s cruises to Alaska, which are among the best Alaska cruises on the market. 

9. Regent Seven Seas for Personal Service

small ship ocean cruise lines

Best for: Luxury travelers

  • Up to $400 per suite, onboard spending credit on selected promotional voyages

Nicknamed the World’s Most Luxurious Fleet™, Regent Seven Seas offers bespoke journeys for those who value a personal experience while on ship. The passenger-to-crew ratio of 1:1 (the lowest in the industry) is why the cruise line is renowned for its exceptional service. 

Spacious suites with private balconies include customizable butler service. Unlimited immersive shore excursions are part of your all-inclusive package, so don’t be afraid to explore the mainland. While on board, enjoy art auctions, wine and cheese tastings and lectures from local historians. 

10. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises for a European River Cruise

small ship ocean cruise lines

Best for: European honeymooners

AAA Member benefit:

  • $250 per couple savings on cruises up to 13 days
  • $500 per couple savings on cruises of 14+ days

If you’re looking for one of the best river cruises in Europe , look no further than Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. Unlike other cruise lines on this list, river cruises are all Uniworld Boutique River Cruises offers. 

The line’s 17-ship fleet features five-star amenities and every decor aspect is inspired by the ship’s destination. Spas, fitness centers and swimming pools are available on select ships, all featuring regional cuisine, theater shows and other onboard entertainment. 

Disembark in quaint villages and extend your trip with customizable extensions. Connect with your fellow travelers and enjoy a crew-to-passenger ratio of 2.4 to 1 for exceptional service from the moment you board. 

Small cruises offer plenty of benefits, but they aren’t for everyone. Here are a few downsides to consider before booking your small cruise:

  • Small cruises cater to couples. They often aren’t family-friendly, and if you’re traveling alone, you may end up feeling like a third wheel to the other couples.
  • Small cruises have limited entertainment and dining options. If you like variety or enjoy lots of meal choices, you may be better off on a larger cruise ship.
  • Some small cruises are not as accessible as larger ships. Due to space constraints on a smaller ship, there may not be an elevator onboard, which can make getting around a challenge.
  • Small cruises have fewer amenities than larger ships. If you have to have a pool, fitness center, and spa, you may be out of luck on a smaller cruise ship. 
  • Small cruises have fewer passengers. For many people, this is a bonus, but it does mean you’ll see the same small group of people the entire voyage. This usually isn’t a problem unless you want a break from any annoying guests.
  • Small cruises are more susceptible to movement than larger ships. With more movement comes a greater likelihood of experiencing seasickness. 
  • Small cruises are destination-focused. As a result, you’ll have the option of taking all-day excursions in every port, which can get exhausting.

Going on a cruise doesn’t have to mean standing in line, making reservations and fighting the crowd for a spot at the pool. Enjoy up-close-and-personal experiences with nature and local culture with small cruise lines.

Book one of the best small cruise lines with AAA through Trip Canvas or your local travel agent for an unforgettable experience. Use your AAA Membership for member-only discounts on your cruise booking, rental car and hotel accommodations during your journey.

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Our mission is to serve the 50+ traveler who's ready to cross a few items off their bucket list.

My 10 Favorite Small-Ship River And Ocean Cruises

small ship ocean cruise lines

  • Cruises and Sailing
  • River Cruises
  • Types of Travel

The more I travel, the more I appreciate not having to pack and unpack, carry bags up and down stairs, or worry about whether I can figure out a transfer from one point to another. Even though I speak numerous foreign languages, it’s still a godsend to have someone else deal with the details like confirming reservations and itineraries. With increasing numbers of travelers and concomitant travel complications, it’s wonderful to have someone else grab the reins.

With a cruise, a lot of the legwork is done for you. You decide on the itinerary, the type of ship you’d like to travel on, and voilà, off you go. The cruise line becomes your personal assistant, connecting with you prior to your trip and guiding you along as you drift away into worry-free bliss. Most days you wake up somewhere new, with the most pressing concern being What time should I have breakfast?

I’ve traveled on a variety of cruises, from the giants of the ocean to smaller vessels that glide down channels and rivers and easily visit tiny harbors and ports accessible only to them.

Here are my recommendations for memorable small-ship cruises.

Stella Australis and zodiac boat

1. Patagonia With Australis

You’ll need to pack a variety of layers for this amazing five-day “Fjords of Tierra del Fuego” cruise from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the tip of Cape Horn and Ushuaia, Argentina. The Stella Australis expedition ship travels effortlessly through the inner fjords of Patagonia and “Glacier Alley,” taking you to the bottom of South America with a backdrop of calving glaciers, ice-blue formations, and a sky filled with constellations seen only from the southern part of the world. Onboard you’ll stay toasty warm in one of 100 cabins. But if you plan to venture to the top deck as well, you should see the Southern Cross and ponder the mysteries of the galaxy, you’ll need all manner of clothes to keep you comfortable.

Summit Cape Horn

Excursions take you off the ship by zodiac, and the weather is variable from balmy, sunny, and rainy to downright freezing. This is a trip where you can be as physically active as you like. Visits to see the Magellanic penguins involve some hiking on sandy beaches, and a little pre-cruise training might be in order if you plan to summit Cape Horn. On the climb to the top, you’ll likely encounter windy conditions, too, adding an extra challenge. For your achievement, you’ll toast at the bottom with whiskey on the rocks, using actual snow. Expert guides on board offer educational lectures to prepare you for the sights and provide photography tips.

Calving glaciers in Patagonia

Pro Tips: Inclement weather can wreak havoc on your cameras and lenses. Bring your phone, a waterproof camera, and even a point-and-shoot or DSLR to be ultra safe . For the best weather and the most daylight, plan your trip during the months from November through March. As there is no Wi-Fi on board (how wonderful!), you might want to rent a satellite phone. There are no elevators, and the ability to climb into a zodiac is a requisite if you plan to leave the ship.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

2. Tahiti And The South Pacific With Paul Gauguin Cruises

For a cultural immersion that’s both beautiful and luxurious, Paul Gauguin Cruises’ seven-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” cruise explores Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and Huahine and is a delicious escape from the cold-weather blues. You’ll start your sojourn with a flight to Papeete, Tahiti, where you’ll overnight before boarding the ship. The m/s Paul Gauguin defines French style and luxury with 165 beautifully appointed staterooms and suites and restaurants with wine pairings and French cuisine that could attain Michelin star status. Services at the Deep Nature Spa and on-board entertainment are first-rate, filling at-sea hours with relaxation and Polynesian culture.

Bora Bora

Each island has its own set of charms. Bora Bora is known as the honeymoon island, marked by resorts with overwater bungalows and deep turquoise waters. Moorea and Huahine are a mix of nature and activity where you can jet ski, snorkel with stingrays, explore volcanic beaches, and experience the French Polynesian lifestyle made famous in movies like Mutiny on the Bounty . A DIY stop on the itinerary, Paul Gauguin Cruises has its own private island, Motu Mahana, where you’ll spend a day swimming, snorkeling, playing volleyball, and enjoying a beach barbecue replete with cocktails from a floating bar.

Pro Tip: If you’re connecting on a flight to PPT, I recommend spending a few days in Papeete to adjust to any time difference. Papeete is a fun port with a shopping and food market and roulettes (food trucks) for local fare.

Goolets cruise ship

3. Croatia With Goolets

Not at all like the “reality show” experience on Netflix’s Below Deck , Goolets promises superlative chartered-yacht service and happy passengers. Nearly 100 different ships at different price points can take you along the Dalmatian Coast and beyond, but I suggest going full bucket-list any time from May through October and choosing the superyacht Freedom or the family-friendly Ohana for your Adriatic journey.

The vision of husband-and-wife team Mitja and Alenka Mirtic, these superyachts are essentially floating mansions, understated in their luxury but staffed with smiling pros who attend to your every wish. With only 11 staterooms and a maximum of 23 passengers, Freedom is the jewel of the Goolets fleet. The superyacht is a beauty — there are four decks, an upper one with lounging areas, an outdoor pool, and a hot tub; the middle with the dining room, bar, and lounge; and two below with staterooms, a cinema, game room, spa, gym, and sauna. Ohana is a less-pricey choice for up to 30 guests with 14 cabins, recently renovated with a children’s playroom, a cinema room, and a full complement of water toys (seabobs, jet skis, paddle boards) that you’ll find on both superyachts. On each, meals reflect local delicacies and are catered to your tastes.

The island of Brac

You can customize your itinerary, deciding which of Croatia’s 1200 islands and islets you’d like to visit, and then Goolets will put it together, adding in little surprises like a visit to the island of Vela Stupe, a precious mini-island where you’ll feast on oysters, Champagne, and wine at the one establishment there, restaurant Moro. Or transferring you to a zodiac and lifting the barrier ropes so you can float into the tiny entrance to gorgeous Stiniva Beach. Most cruises start in the medieval city of Split, a city worthy of spending three nights on its own merit to wander its warren of streets and visit Diocletian’s Palace where Game of Thrones was filmed. Each island visited after that — Brač, Hvar, Korčula, Vis, and Vela Stupe — has its own charms and attractions from beaches and café life to 13th-century buildings, and, of course, dramatic scenery. Port stops on the mainland are possible, too, to include Makarska with its seaside walkway, charming shops, and Old Town square; or historic Dubrovnik (another favorite for Game of Thrones fans) and its low-key neighbor Cavtat.

Pro Tips: While not as well known as neighboring Italy for its wines and olive oils, Croatia excels in its offerings. Be sure to sample the many varieties that vary from island to island. Note that decks on these superyachts are connected by stairs only. You can learn more about chartering a Croatian yacht with Goolets here .

Inside a French Country Waterways cruise

4. The Champagne Region With French Country Waterways

The pandemic has taught us a thing or two about the value of slowing down, and that’s where a cruise on a French Country Waterways barge fits in perfectly. Leaving from and returning to Paris — where it’s an absolute must to begin and end your journey with a few days in the City of Light — the Nenuphar is a luxuriously appointed barge that accommodates only 12 passengers for a slow 6-day float through the canals of Champagne. The intimate size guarantees that you’ll get to know your cruise mates very well, over early morning coffee, during wine-and-cheese happy hours, and at lavish meals both on the barge and at the Michelin-starred Les Crayères in Reims.

Nenuphar

You’ll also become an expert in French wines and champagne production with private tours in Épernay and Ludes that include Moët & Chandon and Ployez-Jacquemart. For a foray into French history, the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims stands sentinel in breathtaking glory. If you’re feeling the need to be active, there are bikes to use, yoga mats to borrow, and villages to visit as you travel through the locks. You might even decide to lend a hand to help the lock keeper move the barge forward. But the true beauty of the cruise lies in lounging on the sundeck and taking in the lovely countryside as you glide past while enjoying renowned wines and cheeses.

Pro Tip: While not necessary, knowing a little French will help if you decide to visit local bakeries and bars. History buffs will enjoy excursions that mix French history with American WWI sites like the battlefield at Belleau Wood.

Celestyal cruise ship

5. The Greek Islands With Celestyal Cruises

Sometimes a shorter cruise is all you want, and Celestyal’s four-night “Iconic Aegean” itinerary covers the bases with stops at popular Santorini and Mykonos, split-personality Rhodes and Crete, and smaller islands like Patmos. Starting in Athens, schedule a few land-based days to explore the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Acropolis, where you can visit the ruins of the Parthenon and the Theatre of Dionysus. Have dinner on the lively Plaka and day trip to Delphi to absorb the vibes of the famed oracle. Then it’s time to board and enjoy the all-inclusive voyage on what is the largest of the small ships on this list with a typical passenger count of fewer than 1,000 guests.

Mykonos with Celestyal cruises

Celestyal encourages you to get out and about, to do a deep dive into the personality of each island, rather than stay on the ship. A true benefit is that Celestyal is Greek-owned and operated, so they really know the country’s culture and when to add extra docking time for exploring each island’s archaeological wonders and mind-blowing scenery.

I loved climbing around the Palace of Knossos in Crete and comparing the new and medieval sides of Rhodes, which quickly became my favorite of the islands. In Santorini, my day was spent in Instagram-crazy Oia and Fira negotiating the steep stairs of the cliffs. In Mykonos, you can do as the locals do and simply laze by the pool and sip ouzo. On board, Celestyal’s food and décor are notably Greek and Mediterranean with staterooms done up in the blue and white colors of the Greek flag. 

Pro Tip: Many of the archaeological sites have a considerable number of stairs, and other areas are quite hilly. Ask in advance for assistance in arranging taxis or using cable cars, or for suggestions for alternate activities. A seven-night cruise is also available. Try to avoid the mid-summer months when crowds and heat can be overwhelming.Want more cruising tips and inspiration?

French Country Waterways' Adrienne sits in the canal in Burgundy

6. Burgundy With French Country Waterways

My second favorite slow-travel, barge cruise is French Country Waterways ’ Burgundy float. Traveling from and to Paris, the Adrienne takes you on a luxurious sojourn on the Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal du Centre through the Côte d’Or wine region. The crew on this cruise does double-duty, with wine and cheese presenters often turning into little elves who magically tidy up your stateroom as you dine, or captains who control the locks as you rise and descend along the canals while teaching you how to navigate. No wish is too large for the crew and you’ll learn a lot about wine and cheese here, given the location of the cruise.

Excursions can be as leisurely as you’d like. You can visit stellar vineyards like Chassagne-Montrachet by motor coach or log your daily steps with walking tours through storied wine town Beaune or “Mustard Capital of the World” Dijon. Early risers will enjoy the hot air balloon experience over the region’s beautiful rapeseed fields. Bikes are available to use any time you’re tied up along the canals. In true French Country Waterways fashion, you’ll enjoy a Michelin-starred dinner at Lameloise in the charming town of Chagny.

Pro Tip: With only six cabins, the Adrienne is small enough to book the entire barge for a group of your friends. French Country Waterways is more than happy to tailor activities to the group.

The charming village of Honfleur in Normandy

7. Normandy With Scenic Cruises

History, art, and music lovers have a luxurious option with Scenic Cruises’ “Normandy and Gems of the Seine” itinerary. Leaving from and ending in Paris, the beautiful Scenic Gem is a river boat that caters to a mix of interests.

Having a focus on Normandy, history plays a large role in choices for your Scenic Freestyle excursions. You’ll learn quite a lot about the Vikings’ involvement in Rouen, the American heroics at Utah Beach and Omaha Beach and much more. To truly understand the importance of Normandy in World War II, one must experience it. Three excursions are offered to take you to the most important D-Day sites including a museum built into a German bunker overlooking Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and the Normandy American cemetery where rows and rows of white graves are sobering reminders of the nearly 10,000 soldiers who died during the Allied liberation of France.

Art lovers will love the day at Giverny, soaking up the colors of Monet’s residence, garden and famous lily pads, as well as the day trip to Van Gogh’s last-known abode and grave site in Auvers-sur-Oise. An immersion into impressionism includes a tour of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen with an on-board painting class. Music features with walking tours by Maurice Ravel’s home in Lyons la Fôret and the unusual Erik Satie Museum in Honfleur. A special evening of wine and music at a château is a Scenic exclusive, and the one chosen for this cruise includes an unusual quartet with a double bass, harp, vibraphone and clarinet.

Designed for a luxurious and comfortable voyage, each stateroom on the Scenic Space-Ship is gorgeously appointed and comes with your own butler. If you’ve ever wanted a perfect, all-inclusive cruise, this one’s for you. While some cruises charge extra for excursions and beverages and expect you to figure out tipping at the end, Scenic eliminates those concerns. You pay one price at the beginning and your only add-ons are spa treatments and gift shop items. To sweeten that as well, Scenic gives you an on-board credit to apply.

Dining is an all-day affair on Scenic, starting with room service on your balcony if you so desire, or three full meals in the Crystal Dining Room. Menus change daily with a rotation of suggested wine pairings. Two private dinners are offered, one for all guests and a Chef’s Table for passengers on the top deck. Your on-board activities go well beyond meals — in the evening the amicable (and very witty) Cruise Director leads a program that might include music trivia, cheese tastings, live music with dancing and more.

Pro Tip: Some of the tours involve extensive walking like the visit to Van Gogh’s home where a steep, narrow staircase leads to the tiny bedroom. The walks to the museums, beaches and cemetery would be difficult for those with mobility issues.

Chateau wine tasting and music concert on the Bordeaux itinerary aboard Scenic Diamond

8. Bordeaux With Scenic Cruises

If wine is more your thing, Scenic’s river cruise along the Garonne and Gironde rivers passes through France’s most storied wine region. Less about history and more about gastronomy, the “Bordeaux Affair” departs from the city of Bordeaux. Starting your itinerary with a visit to the city’s impressive Cité du Vin gives you a useful introduction to the wines you will experience over the course of the cruise .

Similar to the Scenic Gem , the Scenic Diamond considers every aspect of luxury from beautifully appointed suites to balconies that turn into Sun Lounges with Scenic’s signature moving glass walls and window. You’ll also find a small gym, a spa, and a salt therapy room.

Dining includes regional specialties such as oysters from Bassin d’Arcachon, foie gras, and canelés , small French pastries made with rum and vanilla. A vast selection of wines takes full advantage of the vineyards on both sides of the rivers and is available at meals and at the bar at all times. Particularly enjoyable is Scenic’s outdoor BBQ lunch served on the top deck. An all-day snack bar and room service are available if you don’t feel up to restaurant dining.

On this culinary-focused cruise, guests also have the opportunity to experience Scenic Culinaire, on-board cooking demonstrations conducted by Scenic chefs. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make crêpes Suzette, croque monsieur, or French onion soup, this is your opportunity in an intimate setting. Sign-ups for these classes, as well as for the wide array of excursions and bike tours, are required. The Cruise Director can help you decide on the best ones to meet your interests and physical requirements. As with all Scenic cruises, an exclusive Scenic Enrich event, here a chamber music concert at a château on a wine estate, makes for a memorable evening and wine tasting.

Pro Tip: There are many options for purchasing Bordeaux wines at great prices. Bring some wine skins to pack bottles in your checked luggage. You can also have wine shipped to your residence with the VAT discount. Some to consider: Entre-deux-Mers, Sauternes, Saint-Émilion, Pauillac, Pomerol and Margaux.

Windstar Cruises in Iceland against the breathtaking scenery of the country

9. Iceland With Windstar

Windstar’s newly stretched Star Pride carries only 312 passengers and travels around the coastline of Iceland on the “Around Iceland” cruise . If you’ve been to Alaska and enjoyed the northern climes, The Land of Fire and Ice is a fascinating follow-up exploration of a volcanic country, or, should I say, of one huge national park.

The scenery is breathtaking on this seven-day sojourn with a range of waterfalls, glaciers, cliffs and geysers. Excursions from the cruise’s six stops will take you for a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon where you can slather yourself with silica mud, ATV riding through some pretty challenging courses, and lava field hiking with crampons secured to prevent slipping off the oft-treacherous ridges. Slightly less challenging, you can hike to Þingvellir where you can pose with your arms stretched between two continental plates.

The Windstar crew are pros at service. Truly where “everybody knows your name,” Windstar cruises are intimate, luxurious and thoughtful. Your cabin attendants will attend to your desires, from extra ice to special pillows, room service with surprises like towel animals, and sweet turndown treats.

A Windstar special, the exclusive Destination Discovery Event is an evening concert in the blue-colored church at Seydisfjordur where you’ll also hear tales about Iceland’s elves and trolls. If you’re curious about how Icelanders dine, you can tour Reykjavik on a pub or foodie tour — Icelandic hot dogs are a must! Architecture fans will love Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, a landmark that stands proudly overlooking the city’s brightly painted buildings.

Dining options on Windstar give you choices to meet your mood. You can dine in the main restaurant where dietary restrictions are carefully noted, or order room service at your whim. The ship’s specialty restaurant Cuadro 44 serves up tapas and sangria while the casual outdoor Grill by Steven Raichlen is a literal breath of fresh air.

Pro Tip: Given that Iceland is a pricey destination, taking advantage of Windstar’s excursions is a smart way to tour. Be sure to sign up in advance or meet with the Shore Excursion Manager as soon as you board. Bring binoculars — you’re sure to see puffins, whales, Icelandic ponies and many birds.

The beautiful Schooner American Eagle

10. Penobscot Bay With Maine Windjammers

I grew up in a sailing mecca, the North Shore of Massachusetts, and having the opportunity to cruise on a historical schooner held real appeal. Retrofitted to accommodate passengers with modern conveniences, the Maine Windjammer that I sailed on, the Schooner American Eagle , had its first days as a fishing vessel in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the town where my mother was born.

Sailing on a windjammer isn’t about luxury — it’s about the voyage, the camaraderie of the crew and passengers, and the willingness to follow the wind instead of a set itinerary. You’ll have the opportunity to learn to hoist the sails, cook in a tiny galley kitchen, and set up communal meals along with your fellow passengers. This cruise requires a bit of dexterity, maneuvering around your small cabin with its bunk beds or small double bed. Showers and bathrooms are shared, also requiring some coordination in tight spaces and necessitating climbing up and down ladders.

What you’ll experience here is an exhilarating, seafaring voyage that hearkens back to the original days of sailing, without the frills. Meals depend on the talents of the chef and his assistants, and the captain sets the tone for the sail. Weather is unpredictable, and it is advisable that you bring appropriate rain gear as you’ll spend most of your time on deck as you traverse Penobscot Bay. This wasn’t for me, but the bravest among you can dive into the chilly ocean. I preferred the island visits that take you to an on-the-sand lobster bake or a homespun evening concert, Maine-style.

Pro Tip: It’s important to ask the right questions before you consider booking a windjammer cruise. Different schooners offer different features, with some more “elegant” than others. The small sleeping and bathing spaces plus the ladders between decks and to the zodiacs may not be for you.

Check out our cruising and sailing content here .

Image of Meryl Pearlstein

A Board member of the Society of American Travel Writers and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, Meryl shares her finds in a myriad of travel publications. She is the author of Fodor’s Family: New York City with Kids , a restaurant reviewer for Gayot.com, and a yogini and classical pianist. Follow Meryl's journeys via Instagram and across social media.

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Small Ship Cruises

If you want a great deal on a small ship cruise holiday, we highly recommend you contact us today to hear about our exclusive special offers and the latest discounted fares.

Established as the UK’s original luxury cruise specialist, we partner with world-famous cruise lines such as Silversea , Seabourn , Windstar and Scenic Ocean Cruises in offering small ship cruises in 2024 and 2025 to a range of captivating destinations throughout the world.

Regardless of which operator you choose, a voyage on a small ship promises a truly unforgettable cruise experience with the highest standards in onboard service, dining and facilities. Furthermore, choosing small cruises means you can visit more off-the-beaten-path ports and islands, many of which are inaccessible to larger cruise ships.

The Definition of a ‘small ship.’

What constitutes a ‘small’ cruise ship is the subject of some debate. Some believe that anything over 200 guests is too big. Others would argue that any ship offering a capacity for fewer than 1,000 guests is small. At The Cruise Line, we recommend that a ‘small ship’ is a vessel with no more than 600 guests.

Advantages of Small Ship Cruising

Enjoying a small ship cruise has two main advantages; the first is that many cruise enthusiasts believe that cruising on a small ship cruise line offers a greater level of intimacy that larger vessels cannot replicate. Secondly, the public spaces on small ships are generally more relaxed, and there’s often a more excellent camaraderie between passengers and the ship’s crew.

The second advantage of choosing a small ship cruise is that they offer a wider variety of ports on their itineraries. In addition, due to their size, small ships can easily navigate their way into remote ports of call that are generally inaccessible to larger vessels. For this reason, many cruisers prefer small-ship cruises when exploring destinations such as Alaska or the Galapagos Islands .

Best Small Ship Cruise Lines

The cruise line you choose for your small-ship cruise holiday will depend on personal preference and, perhaps most importantly, where you want to go. But, from sleek yachts and luxurious river ships to expedition-ready vessels, we guarantee you’ll find a cruise line offering the kind of small-ship experience that meets your requirements.

As a guide, here is a selection of the best small-ship cruise lines and cruise ships:

Up to 100 guests:

  • Emerald Azzurra, Emerald Sakara ( Emerald Yacht Cruises ) – up to 100 guests
  • Le Ponant (Ponant Cruises) – up to 67 guests
  • Hebridean Princess (Hebridean Island Cruises) – up to 48 guests
  • Sea Cloud II (Sea Cloud Cruises) – up to 94 guests
  • Silver Origin (Silversea) – up to 100 guests

Up to 150 guests

  • Celebrity Flora – up to 120 guests
  • Sea Cloud Spirit (Sea Cloud Cruises) – up to 136 guests
  • SeaDream I, SeaDream II ( SeaDream Yacht Club ) – up to 112 guests
  • Wind Spirit, Wind Star ( Windstar Cruises ) – up to 148 guests

Up to 250 guests

  • Le Bougainville, Le Champlain, Le Dumont d’Urville, Le Laperouse ( Ponant Cruises ) – up to 184 guests
  • Hanseatic Inspiration (Hapag-Lloyd Cruises) – up to 230 guests
  • S cenic Eclipse I , Scenic Eclipse II (Scenic Ocean Cruises) – up to 228 guests
  • World Navigator, World Traveller, World Voyager ( Atlas Ocean Voyages ) – up to 196 guests.

Up to 400 guests

  • Star Breeze, Star Legend, Star Pride (Windstar Cruises) – up to 254 guests
  • MS Fram (Hurtigruten) – up to 318 guests
  • Seabourn Venture, Seabourn Pursuit ( Seabourn ) – up to 317 guests
  • Wind Surf (Windstar Cruises) – up to 374 guests

Up to 600 guests

  • Seven Seas Navigator (Regent Seven Seas) – up to 557 guests
  • Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn (Seabourn) – up to 540 guests

Book Small Ship Cruises with The Cruise Line

To learn more about small ship cruises, please call our team of Voyage Consultants on 0800 008 6677 . Alternatively, please browse the collection of voyages below and make an online enquiry for your preferred sailing.

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FinanceBuzz

FinanceBuzz

14 Unique Cruises You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Posted: January 27, 2024 | Last updated: January 27, 2024

<p> Whether you’re a diehard cruise lover or a casual tourist looking to <a href="https://financebuzz.com/ways-to-travel-more?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=1&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=step+up+your+travel+game&synd_backlink_position=1&synd_slug=ways-to-travel-more">step up your travel game</a>, cruise ships offer a wonderful way to see the sights in multiple locations. </p> <p> There are plenty of recognizable cruise ships that specialize in specific experiences or themes. However, these lesser-known cruise ship lines may offer a unique experience for those seeking something a little different.  </p> <p>  <a href="https://financebuzz.com/top-travel-credit-cards?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=1&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Earn+Points+and+Miles%3A+Find+the+best+travel+credit+card+for+nearly+free+travel&synd_backlink_position=2&synd_slug=top-travel-credit-cards"><b>Earn Points and Miles:</b> Find the best travel credit card for nearly free travel</a>  </p>

Whether you’re a diehard cruise lover or a casual tourist looking to step up your travel game , cruise ships offer a wonderful way to see the sights in multiple locations.

There are plenty of recognizable cruise ships that specialize in specific experiences or themes. However, these lesser-known cruise ship lines may offer a unique experience for those seeking something a little different.

Earn Points and Miles: Find the best travel credit card for nearly free travel

<p> Mainstream cruise ships are often huge and fully modernized. At Sea Cloud Cruises, they focus on a smaller, more intimate sailing experience. </p> <p> The private yachts primarily use hand-set wind sails to guide the ship. In fact, the routes periodically change to adapt to the weather. The yachts also dock at smaller ports, creating a more unique and personalized travel experience. </p> <p>  <p class=""><a href="https://financebuzz.com/choice-home-warranty-jump?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=2&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Avoid+costly+repairs%3A++Unexpected+appliance+breakdowns+can+cost+%241%2C000s+of+dollars+to+fix.&synd_backlink_position=3&synd_slug=choice-home-warranty-jump"><b>Avoid costly repairs: </b> Unexpected appliance breakdowns can cost $1,000s of dollars to fix.</a></p>  </p>

Sea Cloud Cruises

Mainstream cruise ships are often huge and fully modernized. At Sea Cloud Cruises, they focus on a smaller, more intimate sailing experience.

The private yachts primarily use hand-set wind sails to guide the ship. In fact, the routes periodically change to adapt to the weather. The yachts also dock at smaller ports, creating a more unique and personalized travel experience.

Avoid costly repairs: Unexpected appliance breakdowns can cost $1,000s of dollars to fix.

<p> With Emerald Cruises, you can enjoy a river cruise through Europe and Southeast Asia.  </p> <p> Some river routes include the Danube, Rhine, Douro, and Mekong. The company also offers yacht cruises on the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Red Sea. You can also cruise through the Caribbean and Central America. </p> <p> Emerald Cruises is also committed to sustainability, sourcing local ingredients at port and avoiding single-use plastic entirely.  </p>

Emerald Cruises

With Emerald Cruises, you can enjoy a river cruise through Europe and Southeast Asia.

Some river routes include the Danube, Rhine, Douro, and Mekong. The company also offers yacht cruises on the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Red Sea. You can also cruise through the Caribbean and Central America.

Emerald Cruises is also committed to sustainability, sourcing local ingredients at port and avoiding single-use plastic entirely.

<p> For a much smaller, more intimate cruising experience, book a stay on the Kruzof Explorer from Alaskan Dream Cruises. This former Bering Sea crab fishing boat only hosts 12 passengers in luxurious, cozy rooms. </p> <p> Another perk of the Kruzof is the boat’s ability to get to remote, hard-to-access waters. There are also speed boats, kayaks, and adventuring gear on board for further exploration. </p> <p>  <a href="https://financebuzz.com/money-moves-after-40?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=4&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Grow+Your+%24%24%3A+11+brilliant+ways+to+build+wealth+after+40&synd_backlink_position=4&synd_slug=money-moves-after-40"><b>Grow Your $$:</b> 11 brilliant ways to build wealth after 40</a>  </p>

Alaskan Dream Cruises – Kruzof Explorer

For a much smaller, more intimate cruising experience, book a stay on the Kruzof Explorer from Alaskan Dream Cruises. This former Bering Sea crab fishing boat only hosts 12 passengers in luxurious, cozy rooms.

Another perk of the Kruzof is the boat’s ability to get to remote, hard-to-access waters. There are also speed boats, kayaks, and adventuring gear on board for further exploration.

Grow Your $$: 11 brilliant ways to build wealth after 40

<p> For a more culture-forward cruise experience, take a trip on a Viking river or ocean cruise.  </p> <p> The cruise line docks in smaller towns like Marksburg Castle in Germany or Porto in Portugal. You can also travel along the Seine River in France or the Nile River in Egypt.  </p> <p> The vessels are designed in a modern yet comfy Scandinavian style. </p>

For a more culture-forward cruise experience, take a trip on a Viking river or ocean cruise.

The cruise line docks in smaller towns like Marksburg Castle in Germany or Porto in Portugal. You can also travel along the Seine River in France or the Nile River in Egypt.

The vessels are designed in a modern yet comfy Scandinavian style.

<p> If you’re seeking a true adventure, book a trip on the Ocean Endeavour, which takes guests on a tour of Antarctica.  </p> <p> With limited off-board options, the on-board amenities are vast, including saunas, spas, a pair of restaurants, and more. The experience is also intimate, with the passenger headcount capped at 199. </p>

Ocean Endeavour

If you’re seeking a true adventure, book a trip on the Ocean Endeavour, which takes guests on a tour of Antarctica.

With limited off-board options, the on-board amenities are vast, including saunas, spas, a pair of restaurants, and more. The experience is also intimate, with the passenger headcount capped at 199.

<p> Another cruise line tailored to adventure seekers is UnCruise Adventures. This Alaska-based company has several vessels of varying sizes, and destinations that include Hawaii, California, the Galapagos, and Machu Picchu. </p> <p> The smallest cruise ship hosts 22 guests in 11 cabins, and the largest can hold up to 86 in 43 cabins.  </p> <p>  <a href="https://financebuzz.com/retire-early-quiz?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=7&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Retire+Sooner%3A+Take+this+quiz+to+see+if+you+can+retire+early&synd_backlink_position=5&synd_slug=retire-early-quiz"><b>Retire Sooner:</b> Take this quiz to see if you can retire early</a>  </p>

UnCruise Adventures

Another cruise line tailored to adventure seekers is UnCruise Adventures. This Alaska-based company has several vessels of varying sizes, and destinations that include Hawaii, California, the Galapagos, and Machu Picchu.

The smallest cruise ship hosts 22 guests in 11 cabins, and the largest can hold up to 86 in 43 cabins.

Retire Sooner: Take this quiz to see if you can retire early

<p> History lovers will enjoy a cruise on the Swell, a 1912 tugboat built in Canada that has been converted into a commercial cruise ship.  </p> <p> The vessel is small, with six cabins and a maximum of 12 guests per voyage. Other amenities include a hot tub, three salons and lounging areas, and kayaks for further exploration. </p>

Maple Leaf Adventures – Swell

History lovers will enjoy a cruise on the Swell, a 1912 tugboat built in Canada that has been converted into a commercial cruise ship.

The vessel is small, with six cabins and a maximum of 12 guests per voyage. Other amenities include a hot tub, three salons and lounging areas, and kayaks for further exploration.

<p> Experience the South Pacific on an intimate vessel with Paul Gauguin Cruises. The Gauguin holds 330 guests and has three restaurants and a spa on board.  </p> <p> Destinations include Tahiti, the Society Islands, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and more, many of which are explored together on one voyage. The ship can sail to a total of five islands within a week. </p>

Paul Gauguin Cruises – The Gauguin

Experience the South Pacific on an intimate vessel with Paul Gauguin Cruises. The Gauguin holds 330 guests and has three restaurants and a spa on board.

Destinations include Tahiti, the Society Islands, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and more, many of which are explored together on one voyage. The ship can sail to a total of five islands within a week.

<p> Quark Expeditions offers another adventurous cruise ship option: 50 Years of Victory. </p> <p> This nuclear-powered vessel features a spoon-shaped bow and stainless steel skirt that makes it able to break through ice as thick as 9.2 feet. </p> <p> When not exploring polar waters, guests can take helicopter excursions, hit the gym, swim laps in the pool, warm up in the sauna, and more. </p> <p>  <a href="https://financebuzz.com/southwest-booking-secrets-55mp?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=10&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=9+nearly+secret+things+to+do+if+you+fly+Southwest&synd_backlink_position=6&synd_slug=southwest-booking-secrets-55mp">9 nearly secret things to do if you fly Southwest</a>  </p>

Quark Expeditions – 50 Years of Victory

Quark Expeditions offers another adventurous cruise ship option: 50 Years of Victory.

This nuclear-powered vessel features a spoon-shaped bow and stainless steel skirt that makes it able to break through ice as thick as 9.2 feet.

When not exploring polar waters, guests can take helicopter excursions, hit the gym, swim laps in the pool, warm up in the sauna, and more.

9 nearly secret things to do if you fly Southwest

<p> While most cruise ships explore oceans and rivers abroad, American Cruise Lines sets forth on river expeditions in America.  </p> <p>Specific rivers include the Mississippi River and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Cruises also visit New England, Alaska, Puget Sound, and more. </p> <p> The riverboats range in capacity from 90 to 180 guests, with each vessel featuring onboard entertainment and education, fine dining, and more. </p>

American Cruise Lines

While most cruise ships explore oceans and rivers abroad, American Cruise Lines sets forth on river expeditions in America.

Specific rivers include the Mississippi River and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Cruises also visit New England, Alaska, Puget Sound, and more.

The riverboats range in capacity from 90 to 180 guests, with each vessel featuring onboard entertainment and education, fine dining, and more.

<p> Aranui is a Polynesian-focused cruise line that includes the Aranui 5. The vessel carries passengers around for a 12-day, immersive getaway. At the same time, it is also a supply ship that delivers to small, remote civilizations in French Polynesia.  </p> <p> The ship hosts up to 230 passengers and provides a culturally enriching, comfortable, all-inclusive experience. </p>

Aranui Cruises – Aranui 5

Aranui is a Polynesian-focused cruise line that includes the Aranui 5. The vessel carries passengers around for a 12-day, immersive getaway. At the same time, it is also a supply ship that delivers to small, remote civilizations in French Polynesia.

The ship hosts up to 230 passengers and provides a culturally enriching, comfortable, all-inclusive experience.

<p>Aqua Expeditions vessels offer river and ocean cruises in destinations such as the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Amazon River in Peru, Komodo Island, the Raja Ampat and Spice Islands in Indonesia, and the Galapagos Islands.</p> <p> The small cruises focus on culturally engaging experiences, emphasizing exploring nature and local wildlife. </p> <p>  <a href="https://financebuzz.com/top-travel-credit-cards?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=13&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Earn+Points+and+Miles%3A+Find+the+best+travel+credit+card+for+nearly+free+travel&synd_backlink_position=7&synd_slug=top-travel-credit-cards"><b>Earn Points and Miles:</b> Find the best travel credit card for nearly free travel</a>  </p>

Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions vessels offer river and ocean cruises in destinations such as the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Amazon River in Peru, Komodo Island, the Raja Ampat and Spice Islands in Indonesia, and the Galapagos Islands.

The small cruises focus on culturally engaging experiences, emphasizing exploring nature and local wildlife.

<p> Adventurous travelers get to explore the Galapagos Islands aboard the Relais & Châteaux Ecoventura.  </p> <p> This experience also focuses on wildlife and nature, with activities that include snorkeling with sea lions. You might also spot dolphins, green sea turtles, and giant tortoises. </p> <p> Seeing rare Galapagos birds is another enriching opportunity for passengers of the Ecoventura. </p>

Relais & Châteaux – Ecoventura

Adventurous travelers get to explore the Galapagos Islands aboard the Relais & Châteaux Ecoventura.

This experience also focuses on wildlife and nature, with activities that include snorkeling with sea lions. You might also spot dolphins, green sea turtles, and giant tortoises.

Seeing rare Galapagos birds is another enriching opportunity for passengers of the Ecoventura.

<p> For a truly special sailing experience, take a trip aboard the Skull & Crossbones. Expeditions are four days long and recreate the experience of being a pirate sailing on the Baltic Sea in one of two ships. </p> <p> Passengers are also referred to as players, as they will spend the expedition in character as a true pirate, complete with mock combat between the ships. </p>

Sailing4Adventure – Skull & Crossbones

For a truly special sailing experience, take a trip aboard the Skull & Crossbones. Expeditions are four days long and recreate the experience of being a pirate sailing on the Baltic Sea in one of two ships.

Passengers are also referred to as players, as they will spend the expedition in character as a true pirate, complete with mock combat between the ships.

<p> These cruise ships offer unique experiences — from exploring remote islands to experiencing the Antarctic. </p> <p> So, if you have a credit card that helps you <a href="https://financebuzz.com/top-travel-credit-cards?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=16&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=earn+travel+rewards&synd_backlink_position=8&synd_slug=top-travel-credit-cards">earn travel rewards</a>, see if you have accumulated enough points or other perks to enjoy one of these cruises today.  </p> <p>  <p><b>More from FinanceBuzz:</b></p> <ul> <li><a href="https://financebuzz.com/supplement-income-55mp?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=16&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=7+things+to+do+if+you%27re+scraping+by+financially.&synd_backlink_position=9&synd_slug=supplement-income-55mp">7 things to do if you're scraping by financially.</a></li> <li><a href="https://www.financebuzz.com/shopper-hacks-Costco-55mp?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=16&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=6+genius+hacks+Costco+shoppers+should+know.&synd_backlink_position=10&synd_slug=shopper-hacks-Costco-55mp">6 genius hacks Costco shoppers should know.</a></li> <li><a href="https://financebuzz.com/retire-early-quiz?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=16&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Can+you+retire+early%3F+Take+this+quiz+and+find+out.&synd_backlink_position=11&synd_slug=retire-early-quiz">Can you retire early? Take this quiz and find out.</a></li> <li><a href="https://financebuzz.com/choice-home-warranty-jump?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=feed&synd_slide=16&synd_postid=15873&synd_backlink_title=Are+you+a+homeowner%3F+Get+a+protection+plan+on+all+your+appliances.&synd_backlink_position=12&synd_slug=choice-home-warranty-jump">Are you a homeowner? Get a protection plan on all your appliances.</a></li> </ul>  </p>

Bottom line

These cruise ships offer unique experiences — from exploring remote islands to experiencing the Antarctic.

So, if you have a credit card that helps you earn travel rewards , see if you have accumulated enough points or other perks to enjoy one of these cruises today.

More from FinanceBuzz:

  • 7 things to do if you're scraping by financially.
  • 6 genius hacks Costco shoppers should know.
  • Can you retire early? Take this quiz and find out.
  • Are you a homeowner? Get a protection plan on all your appliances.

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5 Affordable Cruise Vacations to Book — Plus How to Find the Best Deals

Here's what you need to know to save money on your next cruise.

small ship ocean cruise lines

Best Affordable Cruise Lines

How to find the best cruise deals, tips for saving money while on board.

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruising has become increasingly popular in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. This form of travel is incredibly convenient (read: no need to pack and unpack), and everything you need can be found right on board — ultimately taking the stress out of trip planning. Plus, with hundreds of ships at sea across dozens of lines, there’s a cruise out here for every type of traveler. Fortunately, cruising doesn’t have to cost a small fortune, and many budget-conscious travelers may opt to set sail for their next trip. Below, we’ve rounded up the best cruise lines offering affordable fares coupled with value-packed inclusions to stretch your dollar further. We’ve also tapped some expert cruise specialists to share their top tips and tricks to help you save money both on and off the ship.

Here's everything you need to know to book an affordable cruise vacation.

Virgin Voyages

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

This adults-only cruise line from Richard Branson — which also happens to be a Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award winner — offers excellent value. In fact, according to T+L A-list cruise advisor and Q Cruise + Travel founder and president Rob Clabbers, Virgin Voyages fares “include more than on most mainstream large-ship cruise lines.” For example, he says, “Virgin fares include internet access, gratuities, all meals — there are no cover charges for its restaurants that on most other lines would be considered specialty restaurants.” Beverages like soft drinks, coffee, and tea are also included, as are snacks, mezze at the aft terrace, and group workout classes. Best of all, there are no pricey beverage packages. “Instead,” says Clabbers, cruisers — or, as Virgin calls them, sailors — can buy their own reasonably priced drinks (think: beers from $6, $10 cocktails, and wines by the glass under $11) a la carte. Additionally, with some promotions , the cruise line throws in a “ bar tab ” credit that can be used towards drinks.

Princess Cruises

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

Another World’s Best Award winner — and WBA Hall of Fame Honoree, no less — this fan-favorite ocean line is renowned for refined ships, serene ambiance, and exceptional service. Moreover, per Clabbers, passengers can choose from “optional packages to help customize a passenger’s trip that provide savings over buying things separately.” For an extra $60 per day, consider Princess Plus, which offers perks like Wi-Fi for one device per guest, gratuities, fitness classes (two per sailing), and beverages like bottled water, specialty coffee, soft drinks, and juice. Alternatively, for $80 per day, passengers can spring on the Princess Premier package, which features the same beverages plus specialty dining (two per sailing), unlimited fitness classes, premium desserts, reserved theater seating, and Wi-Fi (four devices per guest).

Norwegian Cruise Line 

Norwegian Cruise Line is a favorite among families of all ages for its over-the-top entertainment and activities (think: go-karting, Broadway-caliber productions, and so on). “While Norwegian Cruise Line may price slightly higher than some of its competitors, you need to consider the Free at Sea package,” says travel advisor Jennifer Travis of Marvelous Mouse Travels . She goes on to describe the promotion as a “game-changer when it comes to cruising” since it includes perks like a “free open bar (up to $1,400 in savings), free specialty dining (up to $180 in savings), free Wi-Fi (up to $200 in savings), and a $50 discount on excursions.” Other Free at Sea perks include 70 percent off second guests, free third and fourth guests (on select dates), and free airfare (per the cruise line’s website: “ Pay airfare for one guest, and you'll automatically lock in roundtrip flights for two ”). Also, you can’t go wrong with the Free at Sea Plus package, which includes a wider selection of beverages, more specialty dining, unlimited Wi-Fi, and additional shore excursion credits. Before booking, be sure to check the line’s full selection of deals , which run the gamut from half-off deposits to $150 cruise credits and more.

Royal Caribbean

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Zip lines, water slides, surfing simulators, ice skating, rock climbing walls: Find all this and more aboard (most) Royal Caribbean ships — and, best of all, they’re complimentary! Ideal for fun- and adventure-loving travelers of all ages — read: kids and kids-at-heart alike — it’s pretty much impossible to be bored while cruising on this World’s Best Award-winning mega-ship line . Additionally, according to Travis, Royal Caribbean “offers some of the best short itineraries,” some of which clock in at under $200 per person for two-night sailings. Longer itineraries, including a seven-night Bahamas sailing aboard one of the line’s newest ships, Odyssey of the Seas , clock in at under $600 per person. The line also offers an abundance of deals , including up to $600 off sailings, 60 percent off second guests, and more.

Carnival Cruise Line 

Courtesy of Carnival Cruises

“ Carnival Cruise Line is known for its competitive pricing without cutting back on the onboard activities or various dining options, thus making them an attractive option to budget-conscious cruisers,” explains Travis. For example, many itineraries, including a four-night Bahamas cruise from Miami , clock in at just over $150 per person. Additionally, says the travel advisor, “Carnival sails to a wide variety of destinations from so many local ports that you almost do not need to fly to your cruise ship anymore, which is another huge savings given the cost (and stress) flights can add to any vacation.” Keep an eye out for frequent flash sales for even more savings.

Booking early is an easy way to save on your next cruise vacation . “Typically,” says Travis, “the best pricing on a cruise is when the schedule is first released.” And, while you could wait for a last-minute deal, “you may not get the room category that you want.” Similarly, Clabbers says that flexibility is key when it comes to finding — and scoring — the best cruise deals . For example, he previously told T+L that if you are “very flexible and are looking for a standard room on a large ship on an itinerary that repeats week after week, you are more likely to find a promotional fare.”

Conversely, giving up some of that flexibility sometimes pays off. According to Clabbers, select cruise lines will offer lower fares to those who opt for a nonrefundable deposit instead of a refundable one. Finally, you may also consider cruising in shoulder season or even low season. Sure, the weather won’t be perfect, but the fewer crowds and cheaper fares more than make up for that, especially if you’re on a budget.

While your tab can quickly rack up once on board, there are several savvy ways to save money. For one, consider bringing your own booze. According to Travis, “Many cruise lines allow their guests to bring a specific amount of alcohol or nonalcoholic beverages onboard the ships, which can help save you money while you are on the ship.” Additionally, ​​Michele Benard , another travel advisor at Marvelous Mouse Travels, advises packing your own necessities from home — like Advil, Tums,  motion sickness medicine, and after-sun lotion — as opposed to buying them on board at a much higher price. You’ll also want to skip the souvenirs at the onboard gift shop, which tend to be more expensive than those you’d find in port.

Benard also recommends taking advantage of “all the free activities on the cruise ships,” which can include everything from water slides to trivia game shows. Pro tip: “Stay onboard during a port day, and the lines won’t be as long.” On a similar note, spa treatments tend to be less expensive on port days, so those craving some R&R — that is, sans breaking the bank — may consider booking a service during this time.

Finally, says Clabbers, save money on your next cruise by enlisting the help of an onboard cruise consultant to select your next sailing. “You will typically receive an onboard credit or savings on your next cruise, and your own travel advisor will be alerted so they can help you plan your vacation.”

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